By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
GREENDALE, Wis. — As far as the Greendale Village Board of Trustees is concerned, the fat lady has sung.
The seven-member committee has unanimously agreed to withdraw a referendum question from the November ballot asking village voters if polling places should be removed from schools.
The decision guarantees voting machines will remain in the village’s three elementary schools for the foreseeable future, something the Greendale Board of Education had fought against for months.
“It’s a dead issue, really,” Trustee Ronald Barbian told Wisconsin Reporter.
Barbian said the village board was caught by total surprise when it was approached by the board of education earlier this year with a request to remove all polling places from schools.
The school board argued in a May 20 letter that allowing voters into school buildings jeopardizes the safety of students. They also said the extra traffic causes classroom disruptions.
Barbian and the other village board members knew they couldn’t accommodate the school board’s inquiry because Greendale doesn’t have any other public buildings with enough parking that could adequately handle polling places and voters.
“We don’t have municipal buildings sitting around,” Barbian said. “We don’t have capacity at present to move it.”
In addition to asking taxpayers to pay for a new community center, Barbian told Wisconsin Reporter the only option would be moving all the voting machines to the current polling locations.
But Barbian said those facilities wouldn’t have enough parking to satisfy state law. Lines at polling places also would likely resemble the waiting periods at the Department of Motor Vehicles, discouraging many Greendale voters from casting a ballot.
“We got a lot of blowback from residents who vote before going to work and do not have the time to wait in line,” Barbian said.
Instead of granting the request to remove polling places from schools, the village board voted in July to place a nonbinding referendum question on the November ballot asking residents for their opinion on the school polling places.
“If the will of the people indicated that they wanted to remain in the polling locations where they have been, then that would send a message to the school board,” Barbian said.
It appears the message has already been received.
School board members decided last week to rescind all letters to the village board asking for voting machines to be eliminated in schools.
School Board President Joe Crapitto told Wisconsin Reporter the school board withdrew the request because it now understands the difficulties the village faces in finding other sufficient polling locations.
But Trustee Carl Genz said a lack of public support also played a role.
Less than 50 percent of parents in the village are in favor of removing polling places from schools, according to a survey conducted by the Greendale School District.
Several parents and educators also attended a village board meeting earlier this month to ask the governmental body to approve the polling change and rescind the referendum question. Some called for the referendum to be withdrawn because they were worried childless taxpayers would cause the measure to fail.
“Keep in mind that it’s the parents of children at the schools making the biggest sacrifice by changing election places — we’re the ones who would then have to go someplace else to vote, instead of just dropping our students off and voting at the same time,” Aleks Skibicki, president of the Highland View Parent Teacher Organization, told a poll worker in an email. “For folks who aren’t parents, it’s just a question of going to one place versus another.”
The village board is trying to calm the fears of some parents by agreeing to place armed police officers at school polling locations and increasing the number of election workers at each site.
“It’s probably going to be the safest day of the year,” Genz said of Election Day.