MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Ronda Walker had a decision she had to make.
For years, Flowers Elementary School in Montgomery had been used as a polling place for county elections. Walker, a member of the Montgomery County Commission, has her district where Flowers is located.
On Monday, Walker took to Facebook to announce that Flowers would no longer be used as a polling location, opting to use nearby Eastern Hills Baptist Church as a polling place for that precinct instead. Walker, who said the decision was months in the making, emphasized safety as the driving force behind the move.
“I felt strongly that it is no longer safe to have the public utilize a school for voting,” Walker said on her post. “It puts the students, teachers, and staff at unnecessary risk.”
Speaking to CBS 42 Wednesday, Walker said that recent events like the kidnapping of Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney in Birmingham or the abduction of Aniah Blanchard in Auburn ultimately did not start the conversation to move the location, but that it certainly sped up the process.
“These principals are basically having to open their doors wide open with limited ability to keep the kids separated,” Walker said. “We’re walking in and out of the lunchroom when kids are walking to and from rooms.”
Elsewhere across the country, other cities and counties have had to grapple with whether or not schools should be used by the public to vote. Following the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, voting in schools was banned in Jefferson County, whose population is over 400,000.
“Schools are in many ways a perfect polling place because of accessibility concerns, they usually have adequate parking, they’re large facilities, large rooms, they’ve historically been used as polling places, and they’re ubiquitous,” said Nathaniel Persily, the commission’s senior research director said during a meeting. “The closing of schools poses a real problem for finding adequate facilities for polling places.”
Historically, schools have been ideal locations for polling locations due to the fact that there is at least one school in most communities nationwide and they are able to hold large groups of people. However, people like Walker believe that those days are done.
“That was the original model,” Walker said. “Communities were built around schools and churches. They became public meeting spaces. That was the norm, but in light of the world we live in where evil is rampant, we have to rethink the way things used to be.”
Nonetheless, Walker said she wants to have polling places that don’t place an undue burden on a potential voter.
“The fact that the commission has a role in voting is one that I am proud of,” she said. “People need to have easy access, unfettered access to the process.”
Walker said the Montgomery County Commission’s goal is to have its polling place completely taken out of schools by the 2020 primaries in March.