Some Guilford County commissioners were expressing major concerns on Tuesday, Feb. 18 after learning that Guilford County Schools is busing students to the polls to vote this year.
While the commissioners acknowledge that it’s a good thing for people to vote – some commissioners also said that they’re extremely concerned about the political bias that could be brought into the process given the groups involved and what appears to be a lack of oversight.
They also expressed concerns over the use of school buses to transport the students to the polls, as well as concerns over the schools failure to fully inform the county of the plan – and even to inform school board members about such a major operation.
Recently, the Rhino Times wrote about a strong push this year by the school system to get eligible students to register and to vote – and even that worried some commissioners with regard to potential bias among groups administering the program.
Guilford County School officials maintain that the school system has two “non-partisan” groups helping with that effort, and they also say that they’re being very careful to make sure politics is left out of it. They say the schools will not encourage the students to vote one way or another – only to vote.
On Feb. 18, Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad said he only learned about the plan for the schools to bus kids to the polls when the school system asked him permission as a parent to have his own child driven to the polls for early voting.
Conrad said that raised major red flags.
“Who made this decision?” Conrad asked.
He said the county commissioners had no forewarning and he also said that, after he found out, he spoke to several Guilford County Board of Education members who told him that they also had been told nothing about the plan to bus students to the polls.
“There seems to be no oversight of this by the school board,” Conrad said. “I think there are an awful lot of questions. Eligible voters should vote – I have no problem with that – but I have a question about the possibility of undue influence by some who may be partisan in the process.”
Conrad recently stated publicly the county commissioners’ concerns as to how long it has been taking for the schools to implement $10 million in security upgrades that the commissioners approved funding for in mid-2018. Conrad said this week that the new mass-voting program, on the other hand, seems to have taken virtually no time at all.
“It seems like this came together quickly and I really wish school administration was as serious about school security as it is about getting students to vote,” he said.
Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson also said he was stunned by the news that there was a mass use of county resources to transport students to the polls. Branson, who, like Conrad, is a Republican, said he was alarmed not long ago when he heard Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras speak at a luncheon when he participated in a “Principal for a Day” celebration. Branson said Contreras spoke that day on how the Guilford County Board of Commissioners had never fully funded the school’s budget requests and she seemed to want that changed at the polls.
“She’s trying to get what she wants from the schools,” Branson said of the superintendent and the new mass-voting program. “Is it right; is it legal?” They’re taking them on a field trip to register and vote on county transportation with bus drivers at an extra expense.“
Branson said that, given those that he’s heard are involved in the operation, it is very, very difficult to imagine that everything is being done with no political bias.