Fearing violence, some officials close schools on Election Day

Some communities around the country plan to cancel classes on Election Day amid concerns that voters, who often flock to public schools to cast their ballots, could turn violent.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Students arrive at Falmouth High School in Maine. The town of Falmouth is one of several municipalities around the country that has canceled school on Election Day to avoid placing children at risk, in case the heated rhetoric spills into confrontations or even violence at the polling places.

Fearing overzealous voters and possible violence on Election Day, communities across the nation have opted to move polling locations out of school buildings or cancel classes for the day to protect students.

Republican nominee Donald Trump’s calls for untrained “poll watchers” and claims that the election results are rigged against him may create an environment that some fear could boil over into violence when voters cast their ballots on Nov. 8. Those suggestions, coupled with a reduction in the number of official election observers to monitor polls for instances of voter intimidation, and a rise in school shootings, have spurred officials to rethink the logistics of Election Day.

"If anybody can sit there and say they don't think this is a contentious election, then they aren't paying much attention," Ed Tolan, the police chief of Falmouth, Maine, told the Associated Press.

Falmouth is far from the only concerned community. Officials in Illinois, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have made similar calls, thinking it best that children don’t become directly involved in the political process.

This year, Mr. Trump has called for his supporters to not only vote on Election Day, but to make sure Democratic voters don’t rig the results – an outcome that would be highly unlikely, experts say.

“We don’t want to lose an election because you know what I’m talking about,” Trump told an overwhelmingly white crowd in Manheim, Pa., earlier this month. “Because you know what? That’s a big, big problem, and nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody has the guts to talk about it. So go and watch these polling places.”

While the fear of violence at the polls, backed by the recent firebombing of a GOP headquarters in North Carolina, seems contradictory to American ideals of democracy, elections throughout history have seen racism, misogyny, and violence all play out in attempted voter suppression and intimidation.

"It’s un-American, but at the same time we have a long history of doing things like that," Ari Berman, author of the 2016 book "Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America," previously told The Christian Science Monitor. "Voting was very, very dangerous. I don't think anyone’s suggesting that we’re at the same place today. I just think the loss of the [official poll observers] is going to be really problematic."

While some have floated the idea of increasing security at schools on Election Day, the National Association of Secretaries of State discouraged any extreme measures, worrying that armed guards or police officers standing outside of a polling place could create another layer of voter intimidation.

Regardless of the divisive campaign cycle, some think it’s time for election officials to find other venues for voters.

"If you take the personalities away and cast the emotion with the election aside, one has to ask the question: 'Are our schools the best places for that activity to take place?'" Easton, Pa., schools superintendent John Reinhart said. "I just think we've reached the point where we need to look at other locations."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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