Under Texas law, all polling places must be located inside a building that is owned or controlled by the State or a political subdivision if feasible. School campuses are often used as polling places because they are recognizable, easily accessible, ADA compliant, and often have space available. Safety and security should be the primary responsibility of administrators and district leaders before, during, and after an election.
Part 1. Lay the groundwork
Each school district emergency operations plan must include a policy for district property used as polling places. Polling place coordinators should review the district’s safety and security policies and procedures before the election. Here are other steps you can take to prepare for a safe, secure election day.
Use email, district and campus websites, and intranets to notify parents, students, faculty, and staff that elections will take place on district property. Share your election day security procedures, and stress the need for awareness.
Identify appropriate polling areas
Polling areas should be separated from offices and classrooms. Ideal locations have their own entry and exit doors, can accommodate large crowds and remain open, and are accessible to people with disabilities. You must also make sure voting booths and equipment do not block emergency exits. When you have chosen safe polling areas, provide local or school-based law enforcement officers with a list.
Limit campus access
All polling places and permitted entrances and exits should be clearly marked. Election workers should have limited access to campuses. Similarly, the public should be prohibited from entering any area other than polling places. That includes restrooms and side exits.
Beef up security
Prepare for the increase in visitors by requesting additional police patrol for election day. Staff should also be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Ask campus-based organizations such as the PTA and other volunteer parent groups to serve as additional hall monitors or help with morning drop-off and afternoon pickup.
Consider removing students from the mix
Some districts steer clear of mixing students and voters by making election day a student holiday. Others exclusively conduct online learning. Both strategies also help control COVID-19 risks.
Clean and disinfect
Sanitary environments help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Before voters and election workers descend on your campuses, make time to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces. Cleaning with soap and water first removes germs, dirt, and impurities. Disinfecting afterward kills germs left behind.
Part 2. Communicate and cooperate
From the beginning to the end of election day, communication and cooperation among all stakeholders are key to keeping everyone safe.
Engage your employees
Ensure a school staff member is on site from poll opening to closing. Choose someone whose primary responsibility is maintaining school safety. Before classes start, assign teams to check campus grounds for anything suspicious, such as unexpected packages. Increase staff presence in common areas and near polling places.
Inform election workers
Election workers must check in through the school’s visitor management system. Make sure they understand the importance of following security protocols, which include signing in and out of campus, keeping voters out of restricted areas, and not propping doors open or opening locked exterior doors for any reason.
With so many people coming and going, take extra care to ensure everyone on campus has a valid reason to be there. Require employees to wear official school identification and election workers to wear their county identification. If vendors, parents, community members, or other third parties visit campus for reasons other than voting, they should be issued proper school visitor badges.
If a voter wants to stay on campus or enter another area of campus after voting, require them to go through your check-in process. Remember that districts may not impose public health requirements, such as physical distancing or wearing a mask, on anyone who enters district property to vote. If the person wants to remain on campus or enter another area after voting, the district may then impose its public health requirements.
Part 3. Prepare for the return of staff and students
After the final vote is cast, there is still work to be done to ensure campuses are safe and secure when staff and students return the next day.
Turn security cameras back on
To protect voter privacy, the State suggests polling places turn security cameras off or ensure they do not cover or film voting areas. If you turn cameras off, remember to turn them back on after the election.
Clean and disinfect - again
Districts have enough on their plates trying to limit the spread of germs among staff and students. Election workers and voters introduce another risk in the evolving pandemic. Take time to clean and disinfect polling areas again.
Check the grounds
Look for security risks around campus the morning after the election. For example, a voter or election worker could have propped a door open. Staff should also look for items that may have been moved to prop open doors.
Remove election-related items
Work with the local election office to remove voting equipment and election-related signs from district property. Signs may pose a vandalism threat or encourage people to try to access campuses after polling locations are closed.
Get more information
Following these simple steps will allow districts to support the voting process while maintaining a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff. For more information and tips, download Schools as Polling Places, developed by TASB Legal Services. For questions about school safety and security, Fund members can contact Emergency Management and School Security Consultant Melanie Moss.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2018. It has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.