By Iryna Shkurhan
Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden) announced the first step in an ambitious effort to remove polling sites from all schools in the county.
At a press conference March 5, Caracappa announced that Stagecoach Elementary School in Selden would be the first school in his district to be eliminated as a voting site starting in April.
“Today marks the day that we strike a better balance between the safety of our school children and logistical needs of our voters,” said Nick LaLota, commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections.
Suffolk has more than one million voters, with over 333 polling sites. Two thirds of sites are currently schools. Logistically, schools are highly accessible sites for voting given their sizable parking lots, handicap access and large open spaces for voting machines.
As local alternatives, nonschool buildings will be used as polling sites to accommodate voters. Up for consideration are the Selden Fire Department’s main station and substation, as well as the New Village Recreation Center in Centereach. Utilizing high and middle schools have also been proposed as alternatives to elementary schools.
“Eliminating schools as polling sites has been a high priority in this community since I sat on the Middle Country school board over 10 years ago, which makes today such a special day,” Caracappa said.
The proposed overhaul comes after reports that school leaders and parents are worried about voters interacting with young students on voting days, potentially putting them in harm’s way. That’s in addition to the costly increased security required for schools on voting days, which comes out of the school district budget.
Shaun Rothberg, principal of Stagecoach Elementary School, said, “This was a collaborative effort over many years of hard work and dedication to bring awareness to the safety concerns of using schools as voting sites, and I hope is the beginning of removing school voting out of all three buildings.”
Voters will at minimum receive a postcard in the mail alerting them of a polling place change along with the effective date.
“We want to ensure that when we make this change, we’re not only doing it on the focus of the safety of the kids, but we also want to ensure that votersw are fully aware and how they can participate in our great democracy,” LaLota said.