School voting

Norma Anderson, left, and Jennifer Jones take a moment to talk after voting at Tiebreaker Elementary School in this 2015 file photograph.

Whether voting or seeing a local play, Bonneville Joint District superintendent Chuck Shackett wants people in District 93’s buildings.

Shackett said Thursday the district has not seriously considered moving polling places to alternative locations, despite recent discussions in Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 to move polling places away from schools in favor of local businesses or churches.

Citing safety concerns in schools, Pocatello-Chubbuck district officials recently asked Bannock County to look into “alternatives” for election polling places, according to a Dec. 14 report in the Idaho State Journal.

Pocatello Police Chief Scott Marchand, who’s helped initiate the push to move more polling places away from schools, said the idea is to keep students safe and “preserve more resources for local police departments.”

“Students are valuable and our future,” Marchand told the Post Register on Monday. “You gotta have the conversation and that’s what we’re doing right now.

“Everybody has a different viewpoint, and you have to adjust to all that. Voting is a very precious right, and we want everybody to have that access, but you would never sacrifice safety to do those things and that’s what we’re working on.”

When asked whether he has discussed the potential changes with churches and business, Marchand said no.

“It’s looking at the big picture,” said Marchand, adding that he hopes to reduce police resources at schools for a day. “It’s seeing where we can do better.”

While recognizing the importance of keeping District 93’s schools safe, Shackett said he was in favor of keeping local election polling in schools due to their convenient proximity and wanting to show taxpayers where some of their money is going.

He also cited a lack of empirical evidence linking threats to security and local elections.

“I can understand the fact that we have a lot of people that we haven’t seen coming into our schools,” Shackett said. “It’s important to focus on the safety end of things, but I’ve never heard of a shooting incident at a polling place in schools, while polling is going on.”

In August, NPR independently confirmed 11 school shootings happened during the 2015-16 school year, following the federal government misreporting that 235 happened. Four incidents were miscategorized.

At least 53 new school safety laws were passed in states in 2018, according to NPR’s report.

Despite the lack of a causal link, some states have seen efforts to move polling places out of schools.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania proposed two bills last year that would have pushed voting places away from schools, according to a March report by The Morning Call (Lehigh Valley (Pa.). Education officials in Long Island, N.Y., support legislation that would allow schools to opt out of their role as polling places, according to an October report by Newsday.

“You know, we love having polling places in our schools,” Shackett said. “In fact, we preferred it. ... We enjoy them in our schools. We want the community to get inside our schools and be a part of them and to show taxpayers, ‘This is where your money is going.’”

Idaho Falls School District 91 Superintendent George Boland said while the conversation to change polling places comes up about four times a year, District 91 officials attempt to carefully balance giving local taxpayers an accessible place to vote while keeping schools safe from threats.

He noted how voters who use Eagle Rock Middle School go through an exit door out of the auditorium, instead of the front entrance, on voting days.

District 91 has not had issues with its polling places, Boland said, mentioning the idea of closing schools on election days has also been brought up before.

“An argument could be made that they’re public buildings. They’re open to the public,” Boland said Monday. “It’s a matter of balancing accessibility with security.”

Luke O’Roark is a reporter for the Post Register. He can be reached at 208-542-6763. You can also follow him on Twitter: @LukeORoark

Education Reporter

An education reporter interested in a variety of topics — basketball, television, hip hop, philosophy. Has been working at the Post Register for close to two years.