Letter to the Editor: How Early Voting Affects Schools

One Patch reader is concerned with how early voting affects PG schools.

A Patch reader and Prince George's County Schools teacher wrote Patch to let us know how she felt about Maryland State Senator James C. Rosapepe's pledge to open more early voting sites next year. The letter is addressed to Rosapepe.

Dear Senator Rosapepe,

I read with great dismay about your intent to offer MORE early voting next year.  I am very curious to know if you are aware of the disastrous effects of early voting on the faculty, students and parents of Paint Branch Elementary School, which shares a parking lot with Paint Branch Community Center. If you aren't, please keep reading! On Thursday, the delivery truck that brings milk to the cafeteria could not complete the delivery because he couldn't get into the parking lot.

My sons had WATER to drink at lunch because there was no milk. On Friday when it was time to dismiss the students, the Teacher in Charge had to argue with police to remove the cones that were blocking the school buses from pulling into the bus loop. She was told that they "didn't care" about the students' departure.  The bus loops are designed to give students a protected space to enter the school buses safely, NOT for parking for election day vehicles.   

Also on Friday, my husband, who is on the faculty at Paint Branch, spent 10 minutes circling the parking lot to find a parking space. 

Those ten minutes could have been spent on student supervision/preparation for the school day, rather than having to aggressively assert his right to park at his place of employment. Further, when I arrived at the school to pick my family up (we share a car), it took me 30 minutes to get out of the parking lot due to illegal parking/double parking, and the general sense of entitlement demonstrated by the people who were there to vote. 

That 30 minutes cost me money as I was late picking up my daughter from her day care.  I was also not able to get to the bank before it closed. Ironically, there WAS a Sheriff's department car there.  Parked going the wrong way on the bus loop. Unattended. Why was this location chosen?  Why were no provisions made to ensure the faculty would have adequate parking before opening the rest of the lot to early voters? 

And more disturbingly, why was the "convenience" to early voters placed ABOVE the safety and dietary needs of elementary school aged children? Perhaps the MOST disturbing, though, was that those children were exposed to a tidal wave of political signage, chanting, and placards with pictures of aborted fetuses on them...without the benefit of an adult to explain what they are seeing. 

 There is so much about this situation that is upsetting, Senator Rosapepe.  And to think that in your OWN jurisdiction, you allowed this to happen?  And publicly say “Voters, Democrats as well as Republicans and Independents, want the opportunity to exercise their right to vote without unjustified delays” shows that you emphasize turnout over the ability of a school to function properly.  What priorities are you protecting? I encourage you, in your role on the Senate subcommittee for election law, to protect the rights of your constituents at Paint Branch Elementary School. 

To recognize that convenience shouldn't trump education. 

Dara Case

Parent, Paint Branch Elementary School

Teacher, Prince George's County Public Schools

Registered Voter of Prince George's County (and YES, I vote...and will be voting on Tuesday)

Chrissy Rey November 05, 2012 at 12:23 PM
I sent an email to the county election board about the problems with the early voting center in College Park. Will forward it to Senator Rosapepe. I encourage the other parents and staff from PBES to do the same. In addition to the problems listed above kids were late to school because buses and parents couldn't get through. That meant that those children that rely on school breakfast went hungry and all of them missed out on instructional time.
Marcus Afzali November 05, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I agree that early voting at the College Park Community Center this year was a mess, but I still support expanded early voting. I believe the issues cited in this letter should be viewed as a learning experience instead of an argument against early voting. In fact expanding early voting may actually help resolve some of the issues cited as expansion of early voting could help reduce congestion at early voting locations. Local officials can and should review the issues that came up at the community center and work together to address them. For example, over the next two years a focus could be put on making sure school buses and delivery trucks have priority access and on street parking restrictions around the community center could be relaxed to relieve traffic issues during early voting. These are just two of many possible ideas that can be debated and discussed to reduce the nuisances that occurred. In 08’ around 30% of voters nationally cast their votes before Election Day, and this year that number is expected to be around 40%. The fact is that early voting is popular and its popularity is only expected to increase. I do not think that this is an either/or issue where we have to decide between early voting and issues for Paint Branch elementary school or no early voting at all. I think by reviewing the issues that occurred that we can expand early voting without hampering Paint Branch Elementary School. I also trust Jim Rosapepe will do everything he can to help.
Chrissy Rey November 05, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Expanded early voting would be great, but PLEASE consider how the location affects the community, and especially the children that attend adjacent schools. Here's the list of issues I found problematic for the College Park Community Center as an early voting center: The location is not easily accessible via public transportation. The closest bus stop is on US-1, 0.5 miles away from the voting center. The community center is in a residential area with permit-only street parking. Because the parking lot is relatively small, and is shared with the school next door, it fills up quickly and voters, and staff at the school, are forced to park illegally on the street. Having so many cars parked (illegally) on the street also narrows them, effectively making them one-way roads, and causing large backups. The community center is adjacent to Paint Branch Elementary School. Every morning during early voting, buses and parents dropping children off at the school were stuck in excessive traffic. Friday morning I witnessed buses pulling into the school late because of the traffic. Even if they're just a little bit late, that means any kids on those buses that normally eat breakfast at school are going hungry for the morning. And all of the kids that are getting there late are missing out on instructional time. That is totally unacceptable.
Erin Chilcote November 05, 2012 at 04:00 PM
The same thing happened at the Early voting at the Bowie Library which is adjacent to the Bowie High School. I wondered if the students had any place to park and the drop-off area was a nightmare! If I wanted to go to the library to get books or to study - forget it because there was no where to park. I'm sure dismissal was the same way for these students and for the staff. The traffic in the morning was so bad that it backed up all the way down the highway into intersections. When determining the location for these early voting centers, do they look at what might be affected?
Marcus Afzali November 05, 2012 at 04:27 PM
The early voting locations are decided by the State Board of Elections. I can't answer any questions about what is going on outside of College Park, but I can say the city is now planning to have this on a work session on this in January if we can get all the appropriate people into a city council meeting. Once this is scheduled for sure I'll let Ryan (editor in chief) know, but it may be a while until there is an exact date. Hopefully we can have expanded early voting and fewer early voting issues in the future.
Ryan McDermott (Editor) November 05, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Thanks for helping answer these questions Marcus!
Jim Rosapepe November 05, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I couldn't agree more! That's why we need more early voting locations so the five we have (including the College Park Community Center) don't disrupt our neighborhoods and our schools. I also agree that, unless there is some good reason I'm not aware of, the College Park location should be moved from the Community Center. As you point out, it was disruptive for everybody. Thanks for bringing your specific concerns to my attention. The Delegates and I will share them with the Board of Elections and work to make sure this doesn't happen again. Thanks!
Pamela Torro November 05, 2012 at 06:22 PM
More places would be great. I went twice to try to vote and both times the lines and wait times were excessive.
Ryan McDermott (Editor) November 06, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Thanks for chiming in with your view on this Sen. Rosapepe!


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