AUSTIN (KXAN) — Across the country, several municipalities have called off school on Election Day in case of any problems at polling locations. In Travis County, about 100 schools will have voting stations on campus. KXAN spoke with Austin ISD Police Chief Eric Mendez, to learn what safety precautions the department is taking locally.
“We’re always concerned about what could occur at a polling location and so with the general election, with this election, we know that everybody’s expecting record turnout with voters,” Mendez said. Because of that, AISD police are approaching Nov. 8 with an “all hands on deck” mentality. Rather than stagger hours, this election all patrol officers will be stationed at school voting locations before the polls even open at 7 a.m.
“Even during the primaries we were aware that this is a going to be a very interesting election,” Mendez said.
KXAN spoke with Misty McLemore, whose second grade daughter attends Hill Elementary School. In an especially contentious presidential race, she says she’s aware of national concerns when it comes to safety at the polls, but she doesn’t share those concerns.
“I think maybe it’s being a little bit overblown and projected to be something that maybe it’s not going to be,” McLemore said.
Both AISD and Travis County officials say they have not received any concerns about polling locations on school grounds, saying a lot of work goes into selecting spots on the front end and making sure there is adequate separation from students.
“The voting or polling location within the school is within a confined area, it’s right by the entry and exits for the voting or the location center and so it’s very difficult to wander away from that area,” Mendez said, emphasizing, “We want to make sure that we hold an election at our school campuses with very little impact to our student body so they can guarantee to get their education as they’re required to.”
Officers will also be checking for school-issued IDs. If you don’t have one visible, Mendez warns, “We’re gonna stop you. We’re gonna turn you back to the front office. We’re gonna ask you to leave the campus.”
McLemore says she’s confident the schools will be safe as usual, but welcomes the additional security. “It never hurts to err on the side of caution,” she said.
We found Travis County is opening dozens more polling locations on election day than in the last presidential election in 2012, including many elementary, middle and high schools. One reason schools and government buildings are so often used for polling locations is because they must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you do plan to go to the polls during early voting, you may want to avoid some of the busiest locations. According to the Travis County Clerk’s Office, more than 8,000 people voted at the Randalls at Research and Braker during the March primary. The UT Flawn Academic Center was also packed with more than 6,700 voters. Nearly 6,500 people went to the Randalls at S. Mopac and William Cannon to cast their ballots.
Click here to check out current wait times at early voting sites in Travis County.