OPINION: Voting Should Remain in the Heart of Greendale
Once or twice a year, some of Greendale schools double as polling places and allows the public to enter freely to cast ballots.
The Greendale Schools has requested that voting be eliminated in the district’s three elementary schools this year. If approved by the Village, polling places would be removed in Canterbury, Highland View and College Park schools. Voting would continue at Greendale High School.
Any proposal making it more difficult to vote requires a good deal of skepticism.
Will the move make some in the Village believe the schools are now safer? A resounding yes. In reality, will the move actually make students safer? Maybe. For 75 years, Greendale elections have been largely efficient, convenient and completely violence free.
I do think that in this era of school shootings, it is legitimate to ask whether voting in schools is wise. However, the answer may not be as simple as it might appear on the surface.
It is an issue that has made it as far as the White House.
In January of 2014, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration examined the issue of voting in schools and recommended, “Schools should be used as polling places; to address any related security concerns, Election Day should be an in-service day.”
The report goes on to say, “With almost no exception, the testimony received from state and local election administrators identified schools as the preferred venue for polling places.”
Indeed, Greendale’s Village Clerk has publicly and clearly stated her strong concerns about moving voting from the schools.
If Greendale district officials do not want to mix polling with school days, they have the option of scheduling a professional development or nonattendance days. Like other suburban districts, Greendale routinely builds such dates into their calendar.
However, the Greendale school board in a letter to the Greendale Village board clearly stated that option was “not realistic.”
Is it realistic to think that if the Greendale Schools is concerned about student safety, they would also ask the Village to eliminate voting at Greendale High School? It is an odd decision — that on the surface — appears to value the lives of high school aged children less than that of elementary school kids.
Some ideas floated by supporters of the move have said that voting should move to local churches. Some of those buildings are already home to private schools attended by Village elementary aged children.
Today, Greendale’s elementary schools invite the public to attend concerts, plays, open houses and fairs that, whether on school time or after hours, leaves the Village’s children at least as vulnerable as they are on Election Day.
I know that residents have heard more than once from district administration about the “changing demographics” in Greendale. Despite the demographic shift, senior citizens remain one demographic that can be counted on to vote in our Village.
It is also the single demographic that is likely to be most impacted by any move of voting. The law says that elections must be held in locations that meet specific standards, related to accessibility and parking for the disabled and elderly. The Village has previously said that the removal of voting from schools could disenfranchise voters.
Greendale already has been in the news over accessibility issues at Southridge Mall. After nearly a year of protests, Southridge Mall officials said in May that they will consider moving a controversial bus stop at the mall that drew the ire of metro-Milwaukee accessibility advocates.
It is an issue our Village leaders and most residents haven’t wanted to touch with a ten foot pole. Greendalers will remember that the renovations at Southridge were partially financed with resident tax dollars using a TIF district.
If the trustees agree to move voting from the elementary schools, there will be other unintended consequences. It makes me wonder if some Village leaders have thought this thing through.
Surely the district knows that voters are more likely to support a school funding proposal if they are casting a ballot in a school. As a district that has become increasingly inward looking in recent years, they couldn’t have missed that this move clearly engages and divides residents beyond the district’s core stakeholders.
The trustees must understand that their vote — either way — will likely have consequences in the Spring elections of 2015. I would wager that at least some trustees are not exactly thrilled to have this issue thrown on their doorstep.
In the end, I believe that the rights of children to safety and of electors to a simple voting process can and must coexist. I agree with those who say that the heart of our community should also be home to an act that is at the heart of our democracy.
There must be a common sense solution that resolves the concerns on both sides. We should urge our trustees and Village leaders to find it. Try harder. That is the Greendale way.