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County clerks push back against legislation allowing schools to deny polling places

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(The Center Square) – The Illinois Association of County Clerks said House Bill 4709 would make it more difficult to find polling places. The bill would allow school boards to deny county clerks access to public school buildings for use as polling places.

State Rep. Maura Hirschauer, D-Batavia, introduced HB4709 that would amend the current state statute that says if a county board chooses a school to be a polling place, then the school district must make the school available. The measure was assigned to the House Ethics and Elections Committee Wednesday with a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

If passed, the school board would be able to deny a county board. Gretchen DeJaynes, Illinois Association of County Clerks former legislative chair and McDonough County Clerk, said it has been a godsend for clerks to use schools because they are Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

“There are just not a lot of buildings with the parking, the ADA compliance, lighting and all the regulations we have to follow,” said DeJaynes.

DeJaynes said there are a lot of states that just do mail-in voting. In Illinois, clerks are mandated by law to send a letter asking voters if they want to be on the permanent absentee list.

“I get a percentage of people who think it’s a great idea and love it, and I get a percentage of people who say, ‘I have voted in my polling place for 40 years and I am not going to change that now,’” said DeJaynes. “That’s a personal choice and I certainly don’t want legislation to make it to where the voter doesn’t get that choice.”

DeJaynes said clerks don’t have a whole lot of options. In McDonough County, she pays school districts a fee to cover things like extra electricity. School districts have to request funding for things like extra security.

DeJaynes said she understands school districts have concerns about safety.

“Society is changing … I mean let’s be honest, we see a mass school shooting once a year somewhere. I don’t want to put people in a school district that are going to at all put my grandchildren in jeopardy. However, on the same token we have to look out for the rest of the general public and they have to have a place to vote that is compliant,” said DeJaynes.

Lakeview Junior High school is used as a polling place and Superintendent Andrew Wise said vote-by-mail numbers continue to increase. He said there are plenty of public buildings besides schools the county can use.

“They [middle schoolers] know what’s going on in the news,” said Wise. “They see school violence and they see things happening that bring anxiety to them.”

DeJaynes said clerks have considered VFWs but, along with having to be ADA compliant, polling places cannot also have the capability to serve alcohol.