Cumberland County officials Thursday were told the public’s perception of using schools as polling places has changed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut and that polling places should be removed from school facilities in the county.
Elections director Penny Brown told the county commissioners that “Based on the moment ... and the passion and the emotions that are out there, I am recommending that we remove the polling places from all of the public schools.”
Brown said the county designates six public schools as polling places: Good Hope Middle School in Hampden Township, West Creek Hills Elementary School and East Penn Elementary School in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland Valley High School and Cumberland Perry AVTS in Silver Spring Township and Camp Hill High School in Camp Hill borough.
“I have identified alternate polling places for each one of these,” Brown said. “The other side of this is that it does cost money to move people.”
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Brown said the it costs the county 70 cents per resident to mail out new voter registration forms — totalling $11,463 for everyone affected by the change.
“That would then certainly go back to the taxpayers because that was not budgeted for,” said county Commissioner Chairwoman Barb Cross.
Brown acknowledged the added expense of the proposal, noting the elections department never planned on relocating any voters this year. “I think it’s a perception issue,” Brown said. “People believe if you don’t have elections there then on that day you’re not subjecting students to further risk. I personally believe the exact opposite is true, but the perception is out there that our children are in danger because these people are coming into our school.”
Cross asked Brown if other counties were weighing similar measures.
“Some of them are not doing anything because of what the election code says,” Brown replied. “Election code clearly says you shall use them (public schools), they shall be made available. It’s a taxpayer-funded event on behalf of the taxpayer in a taxpayer-funded building. Where’s your argument?”
Commissioner Jim Hertzler said it wasn’t necessary to remove polling places from schools that expressed no interest in doing so. “In fact, I will tell you...,” he said. “There was a strong feeling among the citizens of East Pennsboro that Westbrook Hills for example should be utilized as a polling place.”
Hertzler reminded the board that only a representative from Cumberland Perry ATVS had voiced concern over the current polling practices — the rest of the locations institute teacher in-service days during elections.
“I’m concerned about adding more confusion to an already confused public with respect to voting,” he said. “Changing polling places always adds to that confusion. I haven’t heard anything from the school board in East Pennsboro saying they want to move it out.”
Cross said she wanted to attend the forums on safe schools occuring next week before making a decision over Brown’s recommendation.
The board passed a motion instead to investigate alternate polling sites in Silver Spring Township to take over for Cumberland Perry ATVS.