STOW — Voters used to going to Echo Hills Elementary, Woodland Elementary or Kimpton Middle School will still be going to those buildings for the Nov. 5 general election.
The Stow-Munroe Falls Board of Education voted 3-2 at its Sept. 9 meeting to allow the Summit County Board of Elections to use those three school buildings as polling places. The building also will be open to the elections board Nov. 4 for a pre-election meeting.
Board vice president Dave Licate and board member Jason Whitacre cast the dissenting votes.
However, Lakeview Intermediate School will not be used as a polling location this fall, said Superintendent Tom Bratten. The Stow City Center will be used instead of the intermediate school.
"That's a huge thing," Bratten said. "Lakeview was a difficult building in terms of security, with so many entrances and exits."
There was no discussion before or after the vote on the use of the buildings for the upcoming general election. Licate sent a written statement the next morning regarding his vote.
"I am aware that the law requires the board to allow the use of our buildings for voting," Licate said. "I'm a criminal justice professor and the other person voting nay is a lawyer. We are clear on the law. My vote was based on principle. Just because a practice is legal, does not mean it is ethical."
Licate said that he is a former security professional; currently, he teaches classes in homeland security at The University of Akron.
"I could not vote in good conscience to create a security vulnerability for our students," Licate stated. "No security professional would do so. Our district has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to install security vestibules and other security technology to keep our students safe. We have spent hundreds of hours developing security policy and training our staff and students. It does not seem reasonable to me that we have to lower our security posture on Election Day by allowing access to members of the public who otherwise have no business with our district. We will not be in session this election, although permitting access to our buildings still creates a vulnerability for our staff and students. Next election, however, we will be in session and that is a problem."
During the meeting, Bratten said that students will not be in session on Election Day, but staff will have an in-session.
Licate added that "the board of elections has worked with us to find new voting locations," and that he was happy that Lakeview would no longer be used as a polling place.
Bratten said during the meeting that the district and the elections board were reviewing two area churches as possible polling places, but they were working through possible issues with current day Americans with Disability Act standards.
Last summer, the school board had unanimously voted to not permit the elections board to use the four school buildings, citing security concerns. A month later, the board failed to overturn that resolution in a 2-3 vote. At a third meeting, the board voted 4-1 to allow the Summit County Board of Elections to use the school buildings as polling places.
At that time, Joseph Masich, the director of the Summit County Board of Elections, said Ohio Revised Code includes provisions that public property must be made available if needed at no cost as a polling place "as far as practical." He had turned over the issue to the Summit County Prosecutor's office, but the case was dropped with the school board's ultimate approval of allowing the board of elections to use the school buildings.
Licate said that "ultimately, the state legislature will have to take up this issue. It is my hope that my vote, although largely symbolic, will raise awareness and motivate change. I don't want something to happen because we allowed a vulnerability to remain, only for people to ask why we didn't do something about the problem afterward."
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, email@example.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC