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Legislation Aims To Preserve Schools As Polling Places

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  Illinois lawmakers are looking to keep schools available as polling places on election day. It comes as some election authorities move to what critics say are less accessible locations.

As officials worry about inviting members of the public near schoolchildren, polling places have been moving from the school gym to local churches or community centers. But Representative Kelly Cassidy says she's concerned about the lack of access for voters. Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago, sponsored legislation that "encourages" schools to either close on election day or hold a teacher training day.

"Having the school remain an option, giving school boards suggestions for ways to make it workable within their needs is the goal," Cassidy said.

Michael Kreloff, from the Cook County Clerk's office, says while other counties have given up on schools as polling places, that's not a viable option for Cook.

"When you get into Cook County suburbs, Chicago, and still many other counties, you could not hold elections without using schools," he said. "It simply doesn't work."

Supporters say a school is the most recognizable building in a community, and moving polling places elsewhere could effectively disenfranchize voters.

But critics say giving such a half-hearted mandate to schools is bad governance. Representative Jack Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, called it 'ridiculous.'

"To ask our schools to close makes no sense whatsoever," he said.

He says it's not worth closing schools when voter turnout is already so low.

The legislation passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting action by the governor.

Hannah covers state government and politics for Capitol News Illinois. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at WILL-AM/FM, Law360, Capitol Fax and The Daily Line before returning to NPR Illinois in 2020 and moving to CNI in 2023.
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