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posted: 12/2/2017 3:29 PM

Editorial: School sites play dual role as election polling places

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  • Schools have historically served as polling places in a tradition that offsets their expenses with the educational value it brings students.

    Schools have historically served as polling places in a tradition that offsets their expenses with the educational value it brings students.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Members of the Illinois Association of School Boards have voted to pursue legislation related to the costs of security at polling places. In short, the members want election officials, not schools, to be responsible for those costs, which some districts say can be as high $10,000 per election.

The proposal stirs a variety of issues worth contemplation, but the discussion should include one underlying injunction -- to wit, that schools should remain a go-to option for setting up the locations where people vote.

That the schools themselves recognize this is evident in the IASB members' Nov. 18 vote seeking sponsorship of its legislative effort. While 157 delegates supported the measure, 148 opposed. Clearly, school officials have misgivings about giving up the use of schools as polling places.

As well they should. Tom DeNeal, a school trustee in Harrisburg Unit District 3, described well the educational value of this practice.

"We should be teaching young people it is a privilege and right to vote, not an inconvenience," he is quoted in a Thursday story by our Jake Griffin.

Indeed.

There is real value in showing students a couple of times a year that voting is an active, assertive exercise that responsible adults undertake to strengthen our communities and our democracy.

This is not to say that schools don't have a point on the issue of managing the costs of an election. A $10,000 outlay for a project that doesn't directly apply to the activities of a school should not be dismissed lightly. And polling no doubt brings disruptions to the everyday operations at individual schools. But Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli, of Naperville, provided some valuable perspective on that point.

"I understand this is what happens when budgets get tight and dollars have to be used for things that aren't education-based," he said, "but this is a community service and if not (at a school) then where else?"

Does it naturally follow, then, that schools must bear the full cost of this community service?

Not necessarily. We can't ignore that the presence of children complicates the job of keeping everyone safe on Election Day, but surely there ought to be some way to balance the goals of using education money for educational functions and election money for election functions, even when, as here, the main question isn't whether taxpayers must foot the bill but which pocket they will pay it from.

All that will need to be sorted out as this effort moves forward. Hopefully the message won't be lost in the process that school buildings aren't just a practical option to conduct local polling. They're a natural location for teaching and promoting the fundamental responsibilities and mechanics of democracy.

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