School safety concerns drive push for primary date change in Va.

FAIRFAX, Va. — Concerns about student safety and voter access to the polls at schools with tighter security procedures are leading the Fairfax County Electoral Board and other officials to ask the General Assembly to change the date of Virginia’s June primaries.

Elections leaders in Fairfax County, who are slowly gaining support from other parts of the state, want the June elections moved from the second Tuesday of the month to the third Tuesday of the month so that the elections are held when schools are closed.

This spring, school was still in session during primaries for U.S. Senate, Congress and some local offices.

In Fairfax County, 165 of 243 precincts are in schools since the buildings are in neighborhoods and generally meet parking, technology and accessibility requirements.

“As a result of the June 12 primary, election officials from 20 school-located precincts reported security concerns,” a letter from the county electoral board obtained by WTOP said.

In the wake of school security concerns tied to shootings or potential intruders, administrators wanted to keep doors locked or put a uniformed security guard or police officer at the door, which elections officials worry could deter voters from casting ballots.

“Because schools are closed in Fairfax County on Election Day in November, it is the June primary where the competitions priorities of secure access for students versus unimpeded access for voters is the problem,” the electoral board wrote.

With school in session, voters also ran into parking problems or access issues due to school buses.

Shifting the primary to after schools close would address those issues, the board said.

Voter Registrars Association of Virginia President Walt Latham said it is an interesting idea, but one that has died in past sessions of the General Assembly.

Other elections officials believe school security concerns in the wake of incidents like the shooting in Parkland, Florida, could provide an impetus for change this time. Multiple panels and legislators are considering broader school safety measures that could be introduced in the General Assembly session that begins in January.

One reason the move has been challenged in the past is a concern that holding the primary after some people have gone on vacation could lower turnout.

“Student safety should be a higher priority, and absentee voting is a viable alternative,” the Fairfax County Electoral Board said.

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