SPRINGFIELD – This might be the last election where voters in Illinois go to a school to cast a vote.
A handful of Illinois lawmakers and Illinois police leaders want to stop using schools as polling places, saying it is just not safe anymore.
“I just know in my heart of hearts, that if we continue to allow this, some day we are going to have a version of Sandy Hook,” said Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka referring to the shooting at the school in Connecticut.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, is sponsoring the plan in the Illinois House. He said he would like to have his ban on voting in schools in place for the elections in 2014.
“There are other places we can vote,” Franks said at a Tuesday newsconference in the state Capitol. “Police stations, fire stations, even the post office.”
“If we don’t have schools, we won’t have polling places,” Franks’ own county clerk, Kathie Schultz, said. “We’re already using fire stations and police stations, but many don’t have the room to host a polling place.”
Schultz is in charge of elections in McHenry County, and guessed that “about a quarter” of her county’s 212 polling places are inside a school building.
“We do not have that many public buildings in McHenry County,” Schultz added.
Schultz said if lawmakers do not want to have voters inside schools while students are in class, then the state should cancel school on election day.
Schools “could move around some of their days off,” Schultz said. “It would be easier to close school than move the polls.”
But Franks said students in Illinois need all the time they can get in a classroom.
“Look at our test scores,” the representative quipped when asked.
State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said the focus of lawmakers and police officials since last year’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school has been to make it tougher to own a gun. Bivins said making it tougher to get into a school is a better tactic.
“We need to look at things other than just guns. I think that debate is going to go on for a long time,” Bivins said.
Topinka said moving polling places out of school buildings would “not cost anyone anything” and said the idea is “common sense.”
Schultz said the federal government may not agree.
“If we move the polls to a place that doesn’t have parking, I could see the federal government getting involved,” Schultz said. “I’m sure if we had issues with long wait times or access, then the feds would act.”
Franks’ idea is just that at this point – an idea. Lawmakers have yet to have a hearing on the matter.