(TRENTON) – A two-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats John S. Wisniewski and Vincent Prieto to ensure the safety of students when a school is used as a polling place on Election Day was approved Thursday by the General Assembly.
The first bill (A-1548) would ensure that student safety and the integrity of the voting process are not compromised when a public school doubles as a polling place on Election Day.
“As Newtown showed us, we cannot be too careful about the access we give strangers to our schools and our children,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), who sponsored the bill. “This bill requires school districts to put in place safety measures to ensure that our students are not put at risk. We want people to exercise their right to vote, but we also want to keep our kids safe.”
The bill (A-1548) gives the board of education of a school district the option to either hold or cancel classes at a school that is being used as a polling place on Election Day. If the board chooses to hold class, the bill requires the board to establish and implement a written security plan, based on guidelines established by the state Attorney General, to ensure the safety of students and the proper functioning and integrity of the voting process during the election.
In addition, the bill (A-1548) dictates that a public school cannot be used as a polling place on a day that classes are in session, unless voting takes place in a room that is directly accessible from the outside, or that is secured by a door or other barrier from the rest of the building, or there is a uniformed law enforcement officer present, and voters are not permitted to pass without supervision through the interior of the building when entering or leaving that room.
Any expenses incurred by the district in order to carry out the bill’s provisions would be reimbursed by the state upon application to the Attorney General. The reimbursements would be covered from funds appropriated to the state Department of Treasury from the general fund.
The bill would take effect immediately, but would only apply to elections taking place more than four months after the effective date to avoid disrupting already-scheduled elections.
The second bill (A-1549), sponsored by Wisniewski and Prieto, would require a school district to take all necessary steps to ensure adequate security for the protection of students when a school is used as a polling place. The bill would also allow the district to deduct any expenses incurred in providing additional security from the sum charged by the county board of elections for the costs of operating a school election. Under current law, school districts must reimburse the county board of elections for costs associated with the operation of a school election.
“When you have that many people coming in and out of a school, you have to be extra vigilant. We have seen the devastation that can be caused when the wrong person gets access to our schools. If any situation calls for additional security, this does,” said Wisniewski.
“Using a school as a polling place is convenient for voters, but can also be problematic since you’re essentially opening the school to strangers. We cannot be too careful when it comes to protecting our children, especially in light of recent events,” said Prieto (D- Bergen/Hudson).
The bill (A-1548) was approved 73-0, while the bill (A-1549) was approved 75-0. The bills now await further consideration by the Senate.