Panel eyes polling locations

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County election officials say keeping schools open on Election Day can pose problems for voters.

The Electoral Board met with Superintendent Jeremy Raley on Wednesday to talk about the issues that likely could arise at upcoming elections. Chairwoman W. Joyce Gary, Vice Chairwoman Jeanne Russell and Secretary Beverley Fleming attended the meeting with General Registrar Lisa McDonald and Supervisor Cindy Bailey.

Traffic, parking and access to the polling locations at two schools remain a concern of the Electoral Board. Several years ago the county allowed the Electoral Board to use Central High School and Strasburg High School as polling places for Woodstock and Strasburg. However, the 2015-2016 calendar adopted by the School Board keeps schools open on Election Day, which is Nov. 3. In addition, Electoral Board members noted that a volleyball tournament game could be played at either high school on Election Day, causing a potential conflict.

Now the Electoral Board wants to reach an agreement with the School Board concerning Election Day and polling sites.

Gary pointed out to Raley the challenges that face election officials.

“All of us have experienced personally here, as voters, as election officials or as board members some of the horrors that can come, and it isn’t meant as a personalized criticism but it’s the schools and it’s because they are … active and so many things are going on, whereas some of our other polling locations are not,” Gary said.

Gary presented to Raley a draft of the memorandum of agreement that outlines the election officials’ needs and calls for the schools to:

• Give election officials access to the polling area beginning at 7 p.m. the night before Election Day to prepare the machines and until midnight on Election Day.

• Send notifications to school staff, specifically principals and athletic directors, as well as students and parents regarding changes in parking and entrances, prohibited areas and traffic flow.

• Reserve parking spaces closest to the voter entrance for voters only.

• Restrict voters to use entrances outside the new gymnasiums.

• Secure hallways and make sure no inside activities are being held within a 40-foot radius of the voting area.

• Not hold any outside events or extracurricular activities on Election Day and no other activities held in the new gymnasium.

• Keep the snack bar or concession stand closed on Election Day.

Gary recalled that there have been instances where students were eating within the voting area or patronizing the concession stand during an election. In another instance, there was confusion over parking for voters and those people attending a sports event at the school.

Russell said she worried that impediments such as traffic and parking at the schools could deter voters from participating.

However, McDonald said that neither the Electoral Board nor the School Board can control the amount of traffic that flows in and out of the polling place. State code requires the Electoral Board to prevent hindering or delaying of voters, McDonald said. Changes in the attitudes of voters have occurred in recent years.

“Voters are becoming more verbal,” Gary said. “They’re becoming more aggressive; they’re becoming more eager to just lash back if things aren’t done right.”

“And we don’t want to lose a voter,” Russell said. “We don’t want someone to come to vote and they leave because it’s just too much of a nightmare for them.”

Election officials don’t know how often that has or will happen, McDonald said. Gary pointed out that the Electoral Board and the county can be held liable should situations that deter voters arise.

McDonald said parties should solidify the agreement in enough time before the election. Raley suggested that the School Board and the Electoral Board hold a planning meeting to work out the details.

“I truly believe we can make it work and be successful,” Raley said. “I think we can find common ground as needed to make it work, meeting your requirements, your logistics.”

Raley said he needed to gather more information, including the volleyball tournament schedule, share the details with the school principals and, ultimately bring the matter before the School Board.

The Electoral Board voiced more concern over resolving the issues before the presidential election in 2016, when the county registrar expects to see a 70 percent turnout. But Raley suggested that members make a formal request to the School Board if they want schools closed on Nov. 3.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com