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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Elections and Schools - A Bi-Partisan Blunder

Last week, in a 5-4 bi-partisan blunder, Northampton County Council voted to impose an undue burden on elections officials and increase the cost to taxpayers of conducting an election.  To be specific, it voted to support state legislation offered by State Senator Mario Scavello and State Rep. Marcia Hahn that will require elections officials to "to avoid selecting schoolhouses as polling places."  This legislation is intended to placate parents at Butz Elementary. They are concerned that their children will be subjected to mass shooters, bad drivers and pedophiles if they are forced to go to school on election day. But in addition to failing address how to keep children safe on other school days, the bill fails to provide the one solution that will protect both children and taxpayers. That solution is to close schools on election day, or require an in-service day.

Since introduction, the Scavello bill has attracted just four sponsors. The Hahn bill has just three. Both bills are sitting in the state government committee, where they will die a natural death.

And they should.

A state law that requires election officials to avoid selecting schools imposes an unfair burden on them. In Northampton County, 25 of 153 polling places are at schools. This, the voting registrar and her deputy would be required to seek alternative locations when they should be checking machines, reviewing ballots, training poll workers and getting absentee and military ballots issued.  Being diverted from their other duties increases the likelihood of error.

In addition to the unfair burden, there is added cost. Schools and government buildings are usually rented out for nominal fees. But private entities will charge high rents because elections officials will have no choice.  I have been told that already happens at some polling places where elections officials have no choice.

The Council members who supported this resolution were Republicans Matt Dietz, John Cusick and Peg Ferraro, as well as Democrats Ron Heckman and Bill McGee.

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