EDITORIAL: No easy answers to election issue

Aug. 29, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

If you’re a Sanford voter going to the polls to cast your ballot in the fall municipal elections, either during the Sept. 10 primary or the Nov. 5 general election, be aware that there will be plenty of activity at the polling sites.

Thanks to a change some years back, Lee County polls were changed from various locations like fire stations and community buildings to schools. It was a decision that obviously has much merit, especially because the schools are accessible and well-known locations. Typically, schools closed on Election Day (it was a work day for teachers), which made the process smooth. And, as Lee County Elections Director Nancy Kimble told The Herald, moving polling places to the schools also complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the upcoming elections, however, schools will be in session. New Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan explained it this way:

“Typically, we’ve tried to have teacher workdays in place on election days, but with some of the changes in the calendar and trying to get in the number of days that we needed, it’s just the way it ended up.”

As Bryan pointed out, the September primary was a change that took place after this year’s school calendar was adopted. Adding to the situation is a new requirement this year for North Carolina schools to be in session 185 days rather than the previous 180 days.

But Lee County Republican Party Chairman Charles Staley has been raising a red flag. He fears for the safety of the students if they’re sharing space in the schools with Lee County voters.

He told The Herald, “It seems like to me if you are going to have people voting, it’s not going to be a very secure atmosphere for the children.”

Staley also warned about traffic and congestion, saying, “Lines of people are there to vote, and then when schools let out, we may run into some issues.”

Bryan noted that the school system is working with Kimble and Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter to ensure the safety of the students on election days, and for as smooth a voting experience as possible.

Staley touts a previous agreement between the board of elections and the school board to have students off during an election day; Bryan says he wasn’t aware of an agreement and was working to comply with state law and meet the needs of our students. So be it; both are protecting their interests.

Staley’s concerns have some legitimacy, but we hope there is enough trust to allow elections officials and school officials to work toward a solution that serves everyone. That includes giving the benefit of the doubt to Bryan, who’s transition plan as new head of the school system has given him an exemplary start in his new position.

The circumstance of students being in schools alongside voters is far from ideal for a number of reasons. However, given the fact that school officials did not have much time to work around and prepare for these additional elections, and have their own requirements to satisfy at the same time, it’s easy to see how this conflict was created.