I’d like to commend and thank the Concerned Parents of Summit for their significant efforts towards removing Election Day polling sites from our schools.

The conversation at last Monday’s town council meeting was extensive.  Boiling it down, here is what we know:

We know that voting is inherently safe.  No one is arguing the point and saying otherwise.  However, we also know that schools are used as targets because of easy access for ill intentioned people and because it evokes the strongest of emotions.  We can eliminate the easy access by removing voting from our schools so that Election Day becomes like any other school day in Summit, no easy access for people both known to the school and for strangers alike. 

We know there are other points in time when there is easy access to our schools (Basketball games, etc).  Fair point.   Yet as with everything, we cannot eliminate all risk.  We can, however, strive to mitigate risk wherever possible.

We know that we have 3 potential solutions.  We can remove the children from their schools on Election Days (close schools), we can increase police presence on Election Day keeping our students in the schools or we can remove polling sites from our schools.  

To that end, we know that only the Board of Education can close the schools on Election Day and our school administration has explained the challenges that would pose.  

Having increased police presence is certainly helpful and we appreciate Chief Weck’s willingness to do so, but that may or may not be a feasible solution on every Election Day year after year.  Likewise, added police presence might actually serve to worry our children as they may wonder why police are necessary while voting since police officers keep them safe.  That fear runs counter to the belief we wish to instill that voting is inherently safe.

We know that we absolutely can and many people concur that we should remove voting from our schools.  Our Union County Board of Elections Administrator has told us that they and they alone approve polling sites.  That is true, but note the nuance.  Its not that they approve using schools or not using schools.  Instead, they approve or don’t approve the list of sites provided by each municipality.  Thankfully, they have already set some precedents for us.  They approved new polling sites for New Providence.  Likewise, the Union County Board of Elections Administrator told us that only 54% of towns in Union County use schools for 100% of their polling sites.  Clearly then, they have approved the use of non school buildings as polling sites for 46% of the towns in Union County.  So, while they do have final approval, we certainly can help drive the conversation by finding suitable polling locations, which Title 19, Section 19.8.2 of New Jersey Voting Statutes not only allows each municipality to do, but actually requires the City Clerk’s of each municipality to do.  We understand that it will take some work; it is not an easy task.  We also have many volunteers willing to help make this happen.

It is really a simple calculation.  Voting in schools + Children/teachers,etc. present = The potential for a bad outcome.  If we change the input by making election day business as usual in our schools, then we can reduce the potential for bad outcomes.  This is a great opportunity for the Summit Town Council to step up and be a hero.  Change the equation, change the potential outcome, be the hero.

Lisa Hartman