A Suffolk County school district is calling for an end to the use of schools as voting sites after an incident at a Lake Grove polling place during Tuesday’s primary elections.
An “irate voter” kicked doors and a table before leaving the Eugene Auer Elementary School, the Middle Country Central School District in Centereach wrote Wednesday in a letter to the county Board of Elections.
The voter then re-entered the polling site and got into an altercation with a worker before being escorted out, the district letter said.
Suffolk County police said Friday they responded to a call from the district, “but the situation was resolved before police arrived.”
The district letter said such incidents show that using schools for voting “places our students in a vulnerable situation.” The letter, signed by Superintendent Roberta Gerold and other district officials, urged the Board of Elections to find alternative locations.
Nick LaLota, the Republican elections commissioner, said Friday that schools remained the best place to conduct elections.
“Schools have big parking lots to accommodate flow and reduce wait time,” said LaLota, who received the letter. “They typically have large rooms that accommodate our big, clunky privacy booths and voting machines.”
A 2014 report from the U.S. Presidential Commission on Election Administration considered security and other issues in the location of polling places and concluded: “In the end, there is no better alternative than schools, and there are few locations more familiar and convenient to voters.”
The commission said school officials concerned about security might consider using professional training or “in service” days so that students would not be present when voters are in the building.
LaLota also released a letter Friday that he had written to Gerold in response. In it, LaLota said the school district had scheduled May 17 school board elections at two of its schools, and the locations were entirely at the discretion of school officials.
“At your earliest convenience, please advise the [Elections] Board as to where we should deliver the voting machines you requested, since it is evident you do not want any elections held in schools in your district,” LaLota wrote.
Gerold said the district will hold its school board election in the high school this year. “It’s not ideal, but it’s better than having it in the elementary school,” she said.
“We usually do not have students in school when there is a general election, but the school calender is very structured and it becomes a dilemma when you have more than one primary in a year, like this year,” she said.
“We have competing interests. We want to make voting very accessible, and we want to make sure schools are safe for our kids,” she said. “I think it’s time for all of us to have a conversation about this.”