After Wallingford schools were told late last year that they can’t enforce their photo ID requirement on voters, Rep. Vincent Candelora is looking to give school officials that authority through legislation.
Candelora, R-North Branford, has proposed a bill would allow schools, when used as polling places, to mandate photo ID for entry into the building if such a requirement is already part of their policy.
House Bill 5177, proposed to the legislature’s Education Committee, appears likely to die without a public hearing this session, but Candelora believes the legislature needs to address the issue.
“We need to have conversations,” Candelora said this week, “in light of so many schools fortifying themselves and worrying about security, about how we are going to have voting in schools while school is in session.”
Along with Wallingford, Meriden, Cheshire, and Southington all use some schools for polling places. While some buildings have a separate entrance for voters to use during elections, like John Barry School in Meriden, other buildings don’t have that option.
State law, though, allows voters to show forms of identification other than a photo ID to access the polls and prohibits polling officials from requiring one.
The issue came up in Wallingford during the presidential primary on April 26, 2016, when classes were also held. School personnel asked voters to show a photo ID and sign into the building at several schools that didn’t have a dedicated entrance for accessing the polling location.
In November 2018, Wallingford’s registrars of voters agreed to a consent order with the State Elections Enforcement Commission acknowledging that security procedures at schools violated state law on voter identification requirements.
The SEEC determined the ID policy is well-intentioned because it is designed to make schools safer and issued no penalty, but raised concerns that not finding the town registrars to be in violation could set a precedent that could allow others to work around existing law.
Candelora said that if schools can’t require IDs “we need to reconsider the issue,” like requiring the use of an ingress into the building that’s segregated from the rest of the school.
“There are other things we can do about really trying to solve the issue,” he said.
Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, a member of the Education Committee, said the bill would lead to different requirements at different polling places.
“That would be the worst way to solve the issue,” he said Tuesday, adding that it “would probably be unconstitutional to do it that way.”
He said that by planning ahead, the issue could be resolved without creating a burden on voters by requiring a photo ID.
“We have a policy on voters identifying themselves that’s already state law,” he said. “I think you can plan around the school date and make reasonable accommodations. That’s why we have local election officials, so they can work with local polling locations to find a system that works.”
Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, ranking Republican on the Government Administration and Elections Committee, believes the state should require photo IDs to vote, with free ones offered to those in need.
“I’m all for the expanding of election use to anyone who wants to exercise their Constitutional right,” he said. “The only way elections matter is if they’re validated, and the public has some confidence they’re held with integrity and have accurate results.”
Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, a member of the Education Committee, said she sees “both sides” of the issue.
“We definitely have to figure out a way to not interrupt a school day, but honor the right to vote,” she said. She agreed with Candelora on the need for separate entrances for voters when schools serve as polling places, but wants to see the state work with local officials.
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