SPRINGFIELD  — This might be the last election where voters in Illinois go to a school to cast a vote.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD  — This might be the last election where voters in Illinois go to a school to cast a vote.

A handful of Illinois lawmakers and Illinois police leaders want to stop using schools as polling places, saying it is just not safe anymore.

“I just know in my heart of hearts, that if we continue to allow this, some day we are going to have a version of Sandy Hook,” said Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka referring the shooting at the school in Connecticut.

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, is sponsoring the plan in the Illinois House. He said he would like to have his ban on voting in schools in place for the elections in 2014.

“There are other places we can vote,” Franks said at a Tuesday news conference in the state Capitol. “Police stations, fire stations, even the post office.”

“If we don’t have schools, we won’t have polling places,” Franks’ own county clerk, Kathie Schultz said. “We’re already using fire stations and police stations, but many don’t have the room to host a polling place.”

Schultz is in charge of elections in McHenry County, and guessed that “about a quarter” of her county’s 212 polling places are inside a school building.

“We do not have that many public buildings in McHenry County,” Schultz added. “We have a lot of homes, but not that many public buildings.”

Schultz said if lawmakers do not want to have voters inside schools while students are in class, then the state should cancel school on election day.

Schools “could move around some of their days off,” Schultz said.

“It would be easier to close school than move the polls,” he said.

In Evanston, six of the 36 polling places are in school buildings and several others are in recreation centers and other locations frequented by children.

Should Illinois ban polling places in schools?

But Franks said students in Illinois need all the time they can get in a classroom.

“Look at our test scores,” the representative quipped when asked.

State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said the focus of lawmakers and police officials since last year’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school has been to make  it tougher to own a gun. Bivins said making it tougher to get into a school is a better tactic.

“We need to look at things other than just guns. I think that debate is going to go on for a long time,” Bivins said. “In the interim, we need to make our schools safe.”

Topinka, the comptroller, said moving polling places out of school buildings would “not cost anyone anything,” and said the idea is “common sense.”

Schultz said the federal government may not agree.

“If we move the polls to a place that doesn’t have parking, I could see the federal government getting involved,” Schultz said. “I’m sure if we had issues with long wait times or access, then the feds would act.”

Franks’ idea is just that at this point — an idea. Lawmakers have yet to have a hearing on the matter.

Contact Benjamin Yount at

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  1. Polling Locations

    When we moved to our home many years ago our polling location was Dawes Elementary.  At that time I wondered about the security risk being created for the children in that school by having people easily access the school… not because of school shootings, but because it would be such an easy venue for a pedophile or any other person with questionable motives from in or out of town to walk into the school under the guise of  a local voter.  Fortunately, that polling location only lasted for one voting season.  

    We now vote at a local Lutheran Church which I find to be much safer for the children, but humorous when considering the concept of Separation of Church and State.  With Robert Crown, Levy Center, James Park's field house and both Ridgeville Park District's field house and headquarters so very nearby, it begs the question why a church was decided upon for the local polling location.  It is one of those "things that make you go hmmmmm…."

    1. Not a separation of church/state issue

      The fact that a polling place is in a church or any other religious institution is not an issue of separation of church and state.  The separation of church and state has to deal with state imposed religion — there is no imposition of religion merely walking into a church to vote.

      That said, state law allows religious institutions to prohibit campaigning outside the building on election day, whereas other public venues cannot institute such restrictions.  I do find that wrong as all polling places should allow canvassing outside the building… otherwise, don't agree to allow your building to be used as a polling place.

      1. JustObserving or JustTeaching?

        I never said it was wrong or even illegal to vote in a church due to Separation of Church and State and I am entirely aware that it is not an issue to vote in a church.  My point is quite simple really…  I find it ironic that I'm performing my civic duty, in a country where we have Separation of Church and State, in a church.  (Over the years it has actually been a humorous tidbit bandied about amongst quite a few of us as we queue up in the line while waiting to vote.)  Your assumption that I do not understand the concept of Separation of Church and State is erroneous, but thank you for taking the time out of your day to share your thoughts on polling.

        1. Just adding to the discussion

          Yes, it was a wild leap for me to comment on the separation of church and state as it relates to a polling place in a school after you write a whole comment about it.  

          It was not an attack on you — it was simply added discussion. 

          1. JustObserving is NowLeaping

            From another perspective (mine), it did not at all feel you were adding to a discussion, but instead attempting to tell me what you assumed I did not know.  Perhaps instead of that wild leap you mention you made, you might consider taking a step back and giving some consideration to your initial assessment of my comment since the leap you made went wide and wild from the intent of my comment.  Further, I find it insulting that someone who knows nothing of who I am would make any assumption on the level of intelligence I may or may not possess.  I won't make assumptions on who you are, but your action seems more to be one taken by a person who wants to share just how much more knowledgeable they are on a given subject than another by publicly and glibly attempting to pants a person with words… all under the guise of having a conversation. 

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