4. Schools should be used as polling places; to address any related security concerns, Election Day should be an in-service day.

A well-run polling place is essential to a smooth election. When knowledgeable and well-trained elections officials administer the process, spotting and fixing problems (like broken machines and inadequate supplies of forms), voters move through the site quicker, and without long lines. Selecting the right polling locations is an important part of the process. Polling places must be sufficiently large, accommodating of voters with disabilities and language limitations, appropriately staffed, adequately supplied, and in accessible locations.

Citing their space, low costs, prevalence, and accessibility, the Commission recommended that states predominantly use schools, rather than other sites, as polling places. Many states are already doing so: "About a quarter of voters nationwide voted in schools in the 2008 and 2012 elections, and close to one-third of Election Day voters did so." Of our ten states, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have the strongest statutory language encouraging the use of schoolhouses as polling places. All three of those require that local election authorities use schools or other suitable public buildings as polling places wherever practicable.

One state, North Carolina, specifically permits county elections boards to use schools as polling places, but does not mandate their use. Louisiana and Kentucky authorize county authorities to designate public buildings as voting locations, but do not state a preference for schools. Three states -- Arkansas, Alaska, and Florida -- offer no statutory requirements for the types of buildings to be used as voting locations. In Florida, though, if the elections supervisor asks, public tax-supported buildings must be made available. Colorado uses an almost all-mail ballot system but also provides for in-person voting and ballot drop-off at a number of designated locations; it has avoided using schools for security reasons and because of timing. In-person voting and drop-off is available for at least fifteen days before a general election (or at least eight days for a non-general election), and schools are not a viable option for that length of time.

The Commission acknowledged that, because of tragic shootings at schools across the country, security is a real concern when designating schools as polling places. To address this problem, it recommended that during elections, students have an "in-service day," taking them off the premises but keeping them on the academic schedule. We favor the recommendation, and suggest that states implement it to the best of their abilities.

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