Editor's note: This article has been updated and clarified since its original publication.
EASTON — Easton High School and St. Michaels Middle High School will close for next year’s presidential primary election on April 28.
The Talbot County Board of Education also has directed staff to include the closure of all public schools on Nov. 3, 2020, the presidential general election, in the development of the 2020-21 school calendar.
The Talbot County Board of Elections asked the school board for the closures to “make the voting experience as easy as possible.”
Election Director Jeri Cook said issues with voting at Easton High School while students are in attendance include insufficient space, non-ADA compliant ramps, insufficient lighting for those reading paper ballots, parking and “chaos.”
Elections officials also prefer that voting to take place in the Easton High School cafeteria instead of the auditorium.
Dr. Kelly Griffith, Talbot Schools superintendent, requested a waiver from Maryland State Department of Education to override the 180-school day requirement, which was recently approved by MSDE State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon.
With the waiver approved by the state, the Talbot school board voted to amend the 2019-20 calendar to close the two high schools for the 2020 presidential primary election.
All board members voted in favor of the decision with the exception of board member Susan Delean-Botkin.
“I don’t see where we’ve been given any evidence that this is going to encourage greater voter turnout or enhance the voting experience by just not having students in the building,” Delean-Botkin said. “That’s my concern, our job is the students...”
The school board plans to examine voting data to determine the degree to which having schools in session affects the voter experience.
Talbot County reported the highest early voting turnout in Maryland for the 2018 gubernatorial general election. According to data released by the Maryland State Board of Elections, from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1, 31.55%, or 8,531 voters, cast their ballots early.
In comparison, Queen Anne’s, Kent, Dorchester and Caroline counties reported 25.25%, 22.71%, 14.14% and 15.41% of early voters, respectively.
Statewide, 16.72%, or 661,276 voters, casted ballots early.
Talbot County’s early voting comprised of 35.27% of 10,273 Democrats, 32.86% of 11,535 Republicans, 23.44% of 209 in other parties, 21.58% of 4,814 unaffiliated voters, 19.15% of 47 in the Green Party, and 13.21% of 159 Libertarians. County-wide eligible active voters were as of Oct. 20, 2018.
Talbot County Council discussed the matter with Cook at its latest meeting on Tuesday, June 25.
“We must prepare to serve over a nine-day period approximately 10,000 county voters in the primary and 20,000 in the general election and this is based on the 2016 turnout,” Cook said at the county council meeting.
She said most all 24 jurisdictions across the state have the access of schools for elections to offer a large enough space to accommodate voters as well as provide safety and security.
Cook said the board of elections is always looking to recruit election judges.
For more information about the Talbot County Board of Elections, click here.