Guilford County commissioners, parents, social media posters and others have all been weighing in for weeks over the move this year by Guilford County Schools to bus students to the polls to vote. While everyone in the debate thinks it’s a good idea for kids of legal age to vote, there’s also been a great deal of criticism of the way the program was implemented and the way it seemingly came out of nowhere.
When the schools began bussing the eligible students to early voting sites late last month, it caught a great number of people by surprise and Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad was one of them.
Conrad said he finds it baffling that a move of this scope and importance never came before the school board. Some school board members said they only learned of it after the first busses hit the polls.
“So who made the decision?” Conrad asked.
Conrad said that, when doing something of this nature, there should be all sorts of safeguards to assure that the program is administered in a fair and highly thoughtful manner. He said it’s hard for anyone to be assured that that happened in this case given the haphazard and secretive nature of the way it was implemented. He said he and many others still have all sorts of questions about the program and how it came about.
Commissioner Skip Alston, on the other hand, said this week that it’s a very good idea and said he doesn’t see why so many people are critical of the move. He said there was no need for school administrators to inform the school board.
“It’s a field trip ,” Alston said. “They don’t tell the school board every time students take a field trip.”
When Alston was asked, as a county commissioner, if he would have an issue with Guilford County government undertaking something on the same scale without the Guilford County Board of Commissioners knowing anything about it, he said he’d have no problem with it. He added that, if Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing started a program that involved busing county employees to the polls to vote, he’d be fine with that and there would be no reason for county management to inform the commissioners or get their approval beforehand.
About a decade ago, Alston threw a monumental fit and called for an investigation by the Guilford County Attorney’s Office after former Commissioner and farm owner Billy Yow agreed to take a sickly stray cow to his farm when the Guilford County Animal Shelter didn’t have anywhere to keep it. (Alston argued at that time that Yow, who raised cows on his farm, was secretively profiting through the shelter.)
However, Alston said he believes there was no need for school administrators to inform school board members of the wholesale busing of students across the county to vote.
He also said this program is a long time coming.
“They should have started doing this a long time ago,” Alston said, adding that he was very excited the first time he could vote.
Commissioner Hank Henning said one problem with doing this and not telling anyone beforehand is that the county commissioners start getting calls from parents.
“A lot of parents felt blindsided by this,” Henning said. “I wish more care had been taken in implementing this. When it comes to something that involves elections, and students voting for the first time, there are always going to be concerns about undue influence.”
“You knew this was going to be controversial,” he said. “It’s been the most talked about thing I’ve heard since it came out.”
Henning said that, even if those matters weren’t a concern, the way the program apparently came out of nowhere raised eyebrows.
“The point is that the community didn’t know about it,” Henning said.
Henning said it reminded him of the plan announced a couple of years ago by the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority to change the name of Piedmont Triad International Airport. Airport and economic development officials secretively planned that among themselves for months and then unveiled the name change to the public. The idea was so unpopular the Airport Authority had to reverse the decision three weeks after they approved the name change.