Push underway to remove students from schools on Election Day

Elections administrators to urge legislature to make changes

BEXAR COUNTY, Texas – During the upcoming Texas Legislature, the Texas Association of Elections Administrators hopes to convince lawmakers to hold general elections on school in-service days.

It would prevent students from potentially interacting with strangers who flock to dozens of campuses across Bexar County to cast their votes, said Bexar County Elections Administrator and TAEA Legislative Chair Jacque Callanen.

"What we've seen now, and I hate to say it, but it's been ever since Sandy Hook, everyone is more conscious of security," Callanen said.

That is a reality not lost on mother of three, Shelby Goolsby, who noticed the amount of people walking in and out of her children's school during the May 2014 elections without any security screening.

"I'm standing there and I'm just watching people go in the side door. And just go in to vote. And it just kind of made me think, a change needs to be made," she said.

Goolsby asked KSAT 12 not to identify her children's school.

"You used to be able to walk in and feel safe. But over the past four or five years, a lot of things have happened," she added.

According to the Texas Secretary of State's office, schools are not allowed to implement their own security measures to screen voters coming to campuses on Election Day.

On most other days, campuses require visitors wanting access to the school to provide identification for a background check before they are allowed into the school.

Implementing that on an election day "would also give the campus additional challenges as far as personnel and time. I think it would definitely slow down the process," said Roger Flores, principal of Mark Twain Middle School.

The state allows elections to be held in buildings that receive public funding.

While county elections officials choose which schools will serve as polling places, schools choose where polls will be placed on campus.

Twain, a school within the San Antonio Independent School District, holds voting in the school library.

"Ideally it would be on the outskirts of the school with easy access to get into. Perhaps a separate entrance," said SAISD spokesperson, Leslie Price. "But also one we can easily partition, or cordon off away from the student activity."

Hardy Oak Elementary, within the Northeast Independent School District, also places voting booths in the library.

"There is a back door that typically voters can come in and out of and also the door to the main building will remain locked," said Aubrey Chancellor, spokesperson for NEISD. "Students will not be allowed to come into the library the entire day."

At Helotes Elementary school within Northside ISD, voters are directed into the teacher's lounge immediately after passing through the front door.

The school moved voting booths from the foyer of the school to the lounge five years ago.

"This way the voters just come in, vote and exit through the doors," said Principal Rhonda Johnson. "They don't have any exposure to the students."

A concern central to school safety year-round is the threat of sex offenders. Only offenders who complete the terms of their incarceration, parole, probation or supervision are allowed to register to vote, according to the Secretary of State's office.

"We don't want schools to not welcome us, but we don't want to go against the procedures and rules that they're working their way through right now," said Callanen.

But Goolsby wants to see polling places taken out of schools altogether.

She created an online petition to "remove voting booths from schools for the safety of children and staff."

About the Author:

Myra Arthur is passionate about San Antonio and sharing its stories. She graduated high school in the Alamo City and always wanted to anchor and report in her hometown. Myra anchors KSAT News at 6:00 p.m. and hosts and reports for the streaming show, KSAT Explains. She joined KSAT in 2012 after anchoring and reporting in Waco and Corpus Christi.