Moving polling places out of schools


The local media has interviewed me regarding my decision to move polling places out of schools.  During each interview, I indicated my primary reason for the move was for the safety of the children, i.e., election days allow anybody and everybody unfettered access to the schools hosting polling places.

My secondary reason for moving polling places out of schools, which has not been mentioned in the news stories, is related to customer service, i.e., parking and the allocation of space inside the schools for the polling place workers, tables, chairs, and equipment.  Many of the older schools do not have adequate parking for staff, students, and day-to-day visitors, let alone voters.  Many schools locate the polling places in hallways or heavily traveled areas which add an element of noise and/or confusion to the voting experience.

I am not going to ask you to go to one of the remaining schools used as polling places to prove me right or wrong on the safety issue, but if you want an example of the parking issue, drive by Washington High School and try to find a parking space close to the polling place.

The email below started my thinking about moving polling places from schools for safety reasons.  I have removed the emailer’s name because I assume s/he wrote to me with the understanding that his/her emails would remain confidential, publicly owned records.

From:   XY
Sent: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:02 PM
To:  Joel Miller
Subject: voting 

Hello, 

      My name is XY and I moved to Cedar Rapids a few years ago.  I have a couple questions about voting locations and am not sure if this is who I need to ask or if I need to direct my question to someone else?  I would appreciate it if you could please let me know who I need to contact if this is not the correct place to have my questions answered. 

      I was wondering why we use the public elementary schools as voting places.  I know many cities used to do this, but also many have relocated the voting to other locations because of safety issues.  Our schools are supposed to be locked for security reasons; however, obviously on voting days, the doors have to remain unlocked and anyone and everyone is allowed access to the school.  In Dubuque, IA, they vote at the fire stations.  One reason for this is that in 1992, a man walked into an elementary school and into the girls’ bathroom and raped a 4th grader.  Is there a possibility of looking into safer locations for voting to take place here in Cedar Rapids?

      I am also wondering if sex offenders are allowed to go into our schools to vote or are they required to use absentee ballots?  Thank you for taking to time to address my questions or point me in the right direction.  XY

This morning (3/5/2012), I talked to the Dubuque County Auditor and confirmed the 1992 incident referenced above did occur although she thought the charge was sexual molestation and not rape.  And she further clarified that the incident did not occur on an election day or at a school used at a polling place; however, she indicated that additional security measures have occurred since the incident.

On Thursday (3/1/2012), I received the following email in support of my decision to move the polling places out of schools.

From: AB
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2012 12:32 PM
To: Miller, Joel
Subject: thank you
 

Thank you, Joel, for being proactive and moving polling sites to non-school locations. 

I have been nervous about that for years—not that I saw a problem—but I did not like “strangers” in the schools. 

I am sure you are getting all sort of feedback, but I wanted to reach out and say thanks! My family appreciates you taking steps to ensure our kids stay safe!  AB 

We still have polling places in eleven (11) Linn County schools.  I will continue my search for acceptable alternatives to those schools as time permits.

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