By Miriam Raftery
At the request of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, San Diego County’s registrar of voters has slashed the number of its schools used as polling places from 14 in the June primary to just five in the November election.
When my longtime polling place at Glenn E. Murdock Elementary School, a block from my home, was moved to Spring Valley Academy a mile away, I emailed the district to ask why. I noted that the new location is not easily accessible since it requires walking a mile down a steep hill with no sidewalks, making it difficult for elderly nondriving neighbors to vote.
Superintendent David Feliciano responded. He noted that California Elections Code 12283 does not allow schools to refuse to allow polling places on campuses — but the district is allowed to ask the Registrar of Voters Office to use other locations.
“The district makes this request every year because parents and staff alike have expressed security concerns over members of the public have expressed security concerns over members of the public entering elementary school campuses while children are present,” Feliciano told ECM via email.
Eliminating schools as polling places, however, could have the effect of suppressing voter turnout. Schools are convenient voting locations for parents and teachers, as well as for nearby residents in neighborhoods.
Chardá Fontenot, a candidate running for the LMSV board, voiced concern over the changes.
“I do believe schools should be allowed to be polling locations,” she told East County Magazine. “I know it’s very convenient for parents to vote when they drop off or pick up their children. Perhaps if safety is a concern for parents, community or the district itself, we may want to discuss having volunteer sheriffs or something similar nearby or on the school premises.”
Fontenot also questioned whether the school board had been consulted or voted on the decision to ask the Registrar to eliminate schools as polls.
We emailed Superintendent Feliciano to ask if the board voted on the matter, and also asked him for documentation of all complaints or security concerns about schools as polling places raised by parents.
Feliciano sent this reply: “In response to your request under the California Public Records Act, we do not have records of such correspondence from parents or teachers. To my knowledge, the board has not voted on this matter. The superintendent functions as the chief executive officer of the school district. One of the duties that have been delegated to the superintendent by the board of education is to develop and implement campus security measures per board policy (BP) 3515 and administrative regulation (AR) 3515.”
In a followup email received Oct. 25, Feliciano clarified, “First, the safety of our children and the security of our schools is my chief concern. The registrar makes the determination in terms of the sufficiency and number of polling locations. Civic engagement and active participation in the democratic process is something we teach and promote in our schools every day.”
Feliciano adds, “I was not superintendent at the time of this last request (though as the assistant superintendent, I was responsible for making it). The request was not new and it was not unilateral. Every voting season, since I have been employed here, the district has requested that alternate locations for polling stations be used. Recent school shootings have only increased the urgency of those requests.”
As for why he had no records of written correspondence on the decision to change polling places, he clarified: “Finally, please understand that school district administration interacts with parents and staff every day in a variety of ways, including in person and through the phone, and therefore do not have a written record of every concern we hear from parents. I would expect that nearly every parent would have concerns about the general public entering their child’s school throughout the school day.”
It is unclear why Feliciano made a decision impacting voters across the district without giving the school board an opportunity to weigh in or seeking broader input from parents and teachers.
According to Feliciano, four schools are slated to serve as polls in the November 6th election are Bancroft Elementary and Spring Valley Academy in Spring Valley, as well as Rolando Elementary, and Maryland Avenue Elementary in La Mesa. A records request to the Registrar of Voters also lists a fifth school, the Steam Academy in Spring Valley.
Asked which schools had been eliminated as polling places, Feliciano said he didn’t know. But a request to the Registrar of Voters produced a document showing that in the 2018 primary election, 14 schools were used as polling places.
Locations eliminated as polls since June of this year include Fletcher Hills Elementary in El Cajon, Northmont Elementary, Parkway Middle School, La Mesa Dale Elementary School and Murdock Elementary School in La Mesa, as well as Casa de Oro Elementary School, Highlands Elementary School, La Prensa Elementary School and Avondale Elementary School in Spring Valley. In 2016, most of those schools as well as Lemon Avenue Elementary were all used as polling places.
We also looked at historical data. In the June 2016 presidential primary, 13 schools in the LMSV district were used as primary sites and in the November 2016 presidential general election, 12 schools were utilized as polling places.
Updated at 11:10 a.m. Oct. 26, 2018
Miriam Raftery is editor of East County Magazine. This report was originally published by East County Magazine, a member of the San Diego Online News Association.