Schools Gear Up for E-Day

AISD schools brace for Nov. 2

Running a school is hard enough, but it'll be even harder Nov. 4 when Austin Independent School District opens up 67 schools and the Baker Center as Election Day polling places. "We started our discussions last year, before the primaries, talking about how Travis County Elections Division works with campuses," said AISD emergency management coordinator Will O'Neill.

Finding the right sites proved more challenging this year: Individual campus inspections were supposed to start in September but got pushed to October while district staff were helping run shelters for Hurricane Ike evacuees ("It feels like we've been the center of the world for the last couple of months," O'Neill said). AISD staff looked for reasonably sized spaces fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Then there's the perennial issue of minimizing voters' interaction with students – less of a concern at high schools, O'Neill explained, because students are older, and there's already a district police presence. An added wrinkle is AISD's new Safety Check visitor management system, which requires campus visitors to provide ID to be checked against national and state databases of registered sex offenders. So a big task has been finding places on campuses that won't be affected by these new regulations.

This year, polling places are moving out of the hallways often used in previous elections and into portables (helpful because they are disconnected from the main buildings) and libraries. Generally, O'Neill said, those are ideal for easy, nonintrusive access because they're "on the wings of the building." O'Neill says the number of campus polling places is roughly the norm, but the anticipated high turnout will put extra pressure on staff and campuses – so much so that the district is encouraging its own staff to vote early. On Election Day, he added, "We'll be there until the last voter has voted. It's going to be a very long night."

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