ROXBURY, NJ – Schools aren’t ideal places for Election Day voting when students are present, Roxbury officials acknowledged this week. They said they will try to find alternative polling sites.
The use of schools as polling places came up at meetings of the Roxbury Township Mayor and Council and the Roxbury School Board. The issue was raised at the council session by resident Minnie Borrero, the mother of kindergarten student, who contended that allowing voting to occur at schools while children are present is potentially dangerous.
“I can’t understand why we wouldn’t just separate these two things,” Borrero told the council. “It just, to me, feels like we are asking for a problem. With the environment that we are living in politically, and with the number of mass shootings in schools … we can’t just keep hoping for the best.”
During the Nov. 7 election, Jefferson School, Kennedy School, Nixon School, Eisenhower Middle School and Roxbury High School were used as polling sites. Although the school board closed schools for the 2016 Presidential Election, schools stayed open during this month’s Election Day.
Roxbury Schools Community Relations Director Ann Rhodes said the main concern of Roxbury Schools Security Director James Simonetti is the high school. While Kennedy, Eisenhower, Nixon and Jefferson have side entrances and areas that can be sealed off for use as polling places, the high school does not, she said.
“At Roxbury High School, it (the polling site) is smack dab in the middle of the main lobby,” Rhodes said. “There is no way for us to cordon it off.”
She said the law requires polling sites to have restrooms, but there is no way to meet that requirement at Roxbury High School without allowing voters to mix with students.
School officials are going to review “a few other locations,” to see if they can be used instead of schools as polling places, Rhodes said. She said the Roxbury Recreation Center in Succasunna and the Roxbury Fire Co. #2 firehouse in Landing were mentioned, as well as some churches. “We are going to look into seeing what other towns do in terms of polling locations,” Rhodes said. “If they are not in the schools, what other facilities are they using?”
At the council meeting, Borrero’s comments prompted Roxbury Councilman Jim Rilee to assert that the topic is not a new one. He said the problem facing Roxbury is a lack of suitable, non-school buildings that meet the legal requirements for an election polling place.
“I’d be happy to drive around town with you,” he told Borrero. “You can tell me where we can go to vote. I 100 percent agree with your concerns. I think the schools should be closed (on Election Day).”
Because Election Day falls the same week as the annual teachers’ convention – where schools are closed on Thursday and Friday – it would be particularly disruptive to also close the schools on that Tuesday to allow for voting, Rhodes said. “The continuity of education gets broken up,” she said. “It becomes almost a wasted week.” Rhodes said the schools were closed during the 2016 election because it was a Presidential election and one that was inordinately tendentious.
At the council meeting, Roxbury Councilman Bob DeFillippo suggested the teacher's convention should be moved to Monday and Tuesday.
Borrero warned the council she was not going to back down in her mission to see the problem resolved. “You guys say to me, ‘You need to go to the board of ed,’” she said. “The board of ed, when I go there, is going to say to me, ‘You need to talk to the town council.’ I’m going to say that’s just going to piss me off.”