With Election Day less than three weeks away and amid a push from Lynbrook and East Rockaway school officials to put an end to voting in schools, two bills in the State Senate would eliminate the practice.
During the 2016-17 school year, Lynbrook Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak worked with East Rockaway Superintendent Lisa Ruiz to petition the Nassau County Board of Elections to eliminate voting in school buildings. As a result, Burak said, the board stopped using Marion Street School as a polling place, though registered voters now go to Lynbrook South Middle School.
“They keep saying they need a government building where there’s enough parking for every registered voter to come and vote,” Burak said of her discussions with the board.
Senate Bill 4449 could change that. It would require the Board of Elections to designate other locations as polling places when schools are in session “and minors are scheduled to be present on such day.” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, introduced the bill in February 2017.
A year later, 17 people were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. As a result, schools across the country worked to increase security to keep unwanted visitors out. During elections, however, civilians vote at many school buildings.
“The Board of Elections needs to think about this,” Kaminsky said, adding that there are many other community centers and religious institutions that could serve as polling places when school is in session. Kaminsky is currently running for re-election against former County Legislator Fran Becker.
Another Senate bill, 9155, would allow school districts to decline to be designated polling places by filing a written request.
“We need to let schools decide if opening their doors puts children at additional risk, and if more suitable sites should be found for Election Day voting,” said Sen. Elaine Phillips, a Republican from Flower Hill, who introduced the second bill last month.
Phillips also said that the issue has taken on added significance since April, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order expanding the right to vote to prison parolees, including those convicted of sexual offenses. Under the executive order, a registered sex offender must contact his or her parole officer, who would send the local school district superintendent a letter requesting permission to vote at a school. If permission were granted, the sex offender could vote only between 7 and 9 p.m., and could not loiter afterward.
At a Board of Education meeting last month, Lynbrook school officials said they were unsure how Cuomo’s order would be enforced. Trustee Heather Hanson questioned who would ensure that a sex offender was in the school only during the permitted time frame, and Florence Frazer, an attorney who advises the board, said that it would be difficult for school officials to identify offenders.
“I think the biggest problem here is that these people are not wearing a scarlet letter,” Frazer said. “So those people at the polling place, including the principals, are not going to be able to identify them.”
Burak said that the executive order “is just one more reason we should not have voting in our schools.”
Both bills that could put an end to the practice are currently in committees.