Unit 5 officials are pleased after the McLean County Board on Tuesday changed a couple of polling place locations in Normal to get them out of schools.
Unit 5 attorney Kurt Richardson told the County Board that safety issues and even conflicting regulation make schools a poor choice for voting now.
“While the election code prevents campaigning within a certain distance of a polling place, schools are prohibited from regulating the political speech of students unless it causes a substantial disruption,” said Richardson.
Schools are commonly used as polling places across the U.S. and have been for generations. They offer parking, a neighborhood location, the advantage of allowing children to see the democratic process take place, and generally a helpful distribution throughout the community.
But Richardson said requiring an open school conflicts with modern security restrictions on entry to the buildings and will get in the way of planned measures such as facial recognition software linked to the sex offender registry. He noted people banned from school grounds must already vote by mail.
Some McLean County Board members expressed concern that abandoning Parkside and Normal Community West schools hurt the ability of voters without ready transportation to access the new polling place at Heartland Community College.
County Clerk Kathy Michael said it is true that any change will hurt some and help others, especially if they have to walk.
County Board member Mark Johnson’s district covers the existing polling places at Parkside and Normal West. Johnson said he has worked election days and observed that most people already drive to vote anyway.
Michael said there is potential help for those who must walk, such as Connect Transit.
“They are also going to offer free transportation for voters, so the voters could look up the closest spot to take the bus. We also have confirmed with Checker Cab that they will be offering free cab service,” said Michael.
She also noted political parties offer rides to the polls as well.
Another polling place slated for change in Normal drew public comment and a different outcome. Jerry James of the NAACP said changing the polling place for precinct 29 near the Orlando Apartments could further isolate that community. James suggested moving balloting to the ISU Alumni Center instead.
Resident Laquisha Stokes called on the board to seek community input and hold a public meeting on the issue.
In the end, board member conversations with the Normal Police Department resulted in an agreement to provide more space on Election Day. That polling place will remain at a police substation near the Orlando Apartments.
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