Delaware school board elections the focus of new proposal

Delaware lawmakers are doing their best to bring more voters to the polls, particularly for school board elections, after years of low voter turnout.

On Tuesday, House Majority Whip Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, introduced House Bill 360 which would combine school board elections with Delaware general elections. Officials say putting both elections on a single ballot would not only increase turnout, but also save money.

“Year after year, we see less than two percent of voters actually vote in school board elections, while the state has to pay more than $100,000 to run these elections,” said Rep. Longhurst. “By moving the school board races to Election Day, voter turnout will shoot up and hopefully those races will receive the same scrutiny as other elections.”

In 2011, records show 11,044 people out of 565,000 eligible voters participated in 13 school board elections across Delaware. This year, 12,084 voted out of more than 435,000 in nine school board elections, which is an improvement, but still less than three percent turnout.

Rep. Longhurst adds the elections themselves may be partly to blame for the low turnout. Polls during school board elections are only open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., while general election polls open at 7 a.m. Additionally, Longhurst says schools – which serve as polling places – are in session during school board elections. During general elections, schools are closed.

“School board elections by design limit participation. People with jobs can’t vote before they go to work because of the late opening, so they’re forced to either vote after work or not at all,” Rep. Longhurst said. “And you have adults entering school buildings while students are present, which creates another potential problem.”

The bill will also require school board voters to be registered voters, whereas currently the requirement was to live in the district on the ballot.

The bill will be officially filed when the House returns from recess on June 5th.

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