Well over a year ago, the effort to relocate voting from Summit’s schools began. More than 1,000 Summit residents signed a petition urging Council to find alternate voting locations. Dozens of worried citizens wrote letters and attended Council meetings, and the Concerned Parents of Summit made a compelling presentation to Council urging them to follow the lead of scores of other New Jersey municipalities (and thousands around the country) and relocate voting to non-school locations.

Though alternate sites were found, and a phased approach to relocating voting was on the table, Council decided to keep voting in the schools, albeit in “more secure” locations. 

To tout the “multi-agency collaboration” in making schools safe for voting, Mayor Dickson posted a video to the city’s Facebook page on May 11, 2015, explaining the “lengthy process of changing how the community votes in the schools.”

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It turns out that after using the new locations within the schools for the Primary Elections last spring, the Board of Elections did not like some of the safer in-school polling spots that arose from this “lengthy process,” and will commence hosting voting in the original locations in many of our schools. When Council was questioned on this last night, the responses were disheartening.

Councilman Hurley continues to compare voting in schools while school is in session as no worse than the access the public has to schools for after-hours activities and sports.  Hurley doesn’t seem to see the distinction that allowing the public unfettered access to our school buildings while 4,000 children are in attendance is a completely different story than when a basketball team and a bunch of parents are at a school after hours. He also likes to quote the Presidential Commission on Elections Administration’s statement that schools are the “preferred” venues for polling places.  What Hurley doesn’t mention is that that same report states that municipalities should take ”all steps necessary to address…legitimate security concerns.”  Hurley also likes to say that the odds of an active shooter in a school on Election Day are actually lower than on other days, but has absolutely no evidence to back that statement up.

Councilman McTernan continues to insist that voting has taken place in schools for “hundreds of years.” This is not the case.

Historically, polling places in the United States were mainly courthouses and town halls, even saloons. Schools were simply not used as voting locations. McTernan was also one of the most vocal opponents to the phased approach to relocating voting, commenting last spring that if we couldn’t move voting from all schools at the same time, then we should move it from none, because “God forbid” a tragedy happened at a school where voting remained…”it would tear our town apart.”

Mayor Dickson admitted last night that polling in the schools does pose a safety risk, and that the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School is one of the worst offenders. Her suggestion was to “hold voters back” during the periods when children are changing classes.  Turns out, the mayor’s suggestion is unconstitutional. Voters may not be restricted in any way at voting locations, nor may they be asked where they are going, or even asked for ID. 

As citizens of Summit, we elected our officials with the understanding and the hope that they would fight for what is right, make smart decisions that impact our town and its citizens positively, and represent ALL our Summit’s residents, even the ones who can’t vote. This is simply not what is happening.  If you care about this issue, please let our Council members and our Mayor know that you support a phased approach to the relocation of voting and that the safety of Summit’s children should be paramount.

Tracy Keegan