These Virginia Schools Were Worried About “Mayhem at the Polls,” so They Closed for Super Tuesday

Virginia election officials have warned of record high turnout—mostly thanks to enthusiasm for Republican candidate Donald Trump.

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Virginia students can thank Donald Trump for an unscheduled break from school on this crisp blue early-spring day. While Virginia schools have generally remained open on primary election days, this year school districts all over the commonwealth—in Richmond and several surrounding counties, and in several counties in the Washington, D.C., area—are closing in anticipation of record voter turnout on the GOP side.

Fairfax County, in suburban Washington, is the most populous county in Virginia and home to one of the largest school districts in the country, with nearly 190,000 students. Election officials feared the expected turnout—generated in large part by enthusiasm for Donald Trump, since voter numbers on the Democratic side has been anemic at best—could swamp schools’ parking lots, hallways, and cafeterias.

But on Jan. 12, the Washington Post reported on a juicier reason for closing the 167 schools that serve as polling stations in Fairfax:

Officials in Virginia’s largest jurisdiction want to close public schools during the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, saying they fear that supporters of Republican front-runner Donald Trump could cause mayhem at the polls.

The concerns stem mainly from a state Republican Party decision—which Trump opposes—to require voters to affirm that they are Republicans before casting a ballot in the March 1 Republican presidential primary.

That same day, representatives for the county fired back, saying they had no plans to close schools on Super Tuesday: “FCPS will be reaching out to the Elections Office to learn more about the new security concerns that have been raised,” Superintendent Karen Garza wrote in an email, according to Politico.

But a month later, even after the state GOP backtracked on its hard-fought loyalty-oath requirement, Fairfax County decided to proceed with the school closures regardless. A Feb. 18 press release announced the school board’s vote to shutter schools on March 1 “in light of historic turnouts in primaries across the country in the past few weeks.”

It’s true that, at least on the Republican side, voter turnout has been staggering in the first four contests: In Nevada, 34,000 Republicans caucused for Donald Trump—more than the 33,000 total who turned up at the state’s GOP caucuses in 2012. GOP turnout was up by 14 percent in New Hampshire, 20 percent in Iowa, and a whopping 50 percent in Iowa. And in Fairfax County, absentee voting has been up 75 percent over 2008, the last time both parties had contested primaries.

So while Fairfax County falls safely in Sarah Palin’s “Communist” Virginia column—in 2012, the county handed President Barack Obama 60.7 percent of the vote, far higher than the 51.1 percent he received nationwide—the enthusiasm Republican voters, whether they’re legitimately “loyal” ones or not, have been harnessing this cycle might well interfere with the day-to-day business of getting an education. 

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 presidential election.