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Challenges for School Districts Preparing for Mail-in Elections

HOST INTRO (Tay Glass, Byline): After an executive order from Governor Cuomo, elections for New York State school boards are going remote. That means school districts have to make sure every eligible voter gets a mail-in ballot. But many school districts say they haven’t received any additional funding or much guidance on how to meet these new requirements. And the deadline for these ballots to be returned is in less than a month. Aaron Pallas (Palace) teaches education policy at Columbia University Teachers College. I asked him what it’s like to be a school district representative trying to get this done. ARRON PALLAS: Confusing and hectic, I think. School boards, quite frankly, are probably working more on just figuring out their budget circumstances, because I believe they have to try to finalize their budgets by May 21, which is just a few short days away. So it's a very tense time I think.

GLASS: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges of this whole new mail-in school board election system?

PALLAS: There have always been absentee ballots in state school board elections. But there's never been an instance in which the entire election is done via mail in ballots. And the challenge of developing the ballots, printing them, distributing them to all the appropriate qualified voters and getting them returned in a time that allows them to be counted given the requirements that they will be received by I think 5 pm on June 9th . It's really quite a challenge. I think there are a lot of districts that are very worried that they’ll screw up frankly, that's something will go wrong.

GLASS: So yeah, what are some of the school districts doing to sort of mitigate these potential risks?

PALLAS: That's a great question because I think that the New York State School Board administration is still hoping for ongoing guidance from the governor's office. I believe they're supposed to send out postcards notifying potential voters about the election. But even the mechanism of determining who's a qualified voter is messy because the executive order did not provide any mechanism for districts to enroll registered voters via mail. And overlaying on top of this, the complication that you've got two elections going on at the same time, for membership on a school board. a budget referendum, and particularly with the financial pressures and challenges that districts are facing in this extraordinary time. They don't really know what their budget situation looks like.

GLASS: How about like on the other side, are there any potential benefits to having everybody mail in their ballots?

PALLAS: I think, in general, it's desirable to make it as easy to vote as possible for people who are in fact eligible and qualified to do so. And historically, they're having elections, even, even with extended hours, having them on what is often a work day for many people, makes it difficult for them to get to a polling location to cast a ballot that they are, in fact, eligible and qualified to cast. So I think that there is some potential benefit in making it more accessible. And if it goes well, which would be lovely. It could serve as a foreshadowing of attempts to try to do mail in ballot mail and voting on a broader scale.

GLASS: Aaron, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today.

PALLAS: My pleasure.

GLASS: That was Aaron Pallas, Chair of the Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis at Columbia University Teachers College.


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