Two weeks ahead of the 2022 midterm election, the Canutillo school board voted on Tuesday to make Election Day a school holiday for students and staff.

A handful of Texas districts have taken similar action, but unlike the Canutillo Independent School District, most based their decision on security concerns, as their campuses will serve as public polling sites.

Canutillo’s closure is intended to promote voting among teachers and staff on Nov. 8, when the district has a $264.1 million bond proposal on the ballot. Three school board seats are also up for election.

Canutillo ISD Board President Sergio Coronado denied that the closure is an effort to boost support for the bond.

“It isn’t about the bond. It’s about getting people easier access to voting — period,” Coronado said after Tuesday’s board meeting.

“We want to make it easier for not just our employees, but our community to come out and vote,” he said. “Having a holiday allows people the time and the access without having to wait until after work, which is when we see a lot of the lines happening.”

District spokesperson Gustavo Reveles pointed to Austin ISD, Fort Worth ISD and San Antonio’s largest district, Northside ISD, all of which made Nov. 8 a day off for students and a work day for staff. Those districts, however, primarily cited security concerns in the wake of May’s Uvalde school shooting, according to media coverage and district communication.

No other El Paso County school districts will be closed to students or staff on Election Day.

Canutillo students and teachers will not need to make up the lost day because there are enough minutes in the district’s calendar to meet the state’s required minutes of instruction, Reveles said. All district employees will be compensated for that day.

Canutillo ISD’s Board of Trustees has talked about making election days school holidays for a few years, Coronado said.

The five trustees in attendance Tuesday — Coronado, Salvador Payan, Patsy Mendoza, Laure Searls and Tristan Hernandez — voted unanimously to adopt a resolution supporting the change, which only applies to this year. Trustees Blanca Trout and Armando Rodriguez were absent.

The closure, the resolution reads, “serves the public purposes of facilitating and supporting meaningful civic engagement by students and staff, providing equitable access to the democratic process … and removing barriers that otherwise discourage or restrict casting a ballot on Election Day.”

Coronado pointed to the board’s decision to move its school board elections from May to November starting in 2006 to coincide with the presidential and midterm election as an example of how “we’ve been very proactive about making it easier for people to get to vote.”

“We wanted more input … we wanted higher participation,” he said.

In 2013, city of El Paso voters similarly approved amending the city charter to move municipal elections from May to even-numbered years in November starting in 2018 to attract more voters.

In November 2021, close to 8% of registered voters living within Canutillo ISD participated in the bond election that was on the ballot along with the state’s constitutional amendments. Nearly two-thirds of those voters rejected the two bond propositions, which amounted to $187.5 million.

That election saw just 4% of El Paso County’s registered voters participate, down from the 55% turnout rate seen in November 2020.

The three Canutillo schools that serve as Election Day vote centers — Canutillo Elementary, Canutillo Middle and Congressman Silvestre & Carolina Reyes Elementary — will only be open as polling sites.

Coronado said he hopes the board will continue to make Election Day a school holiday, and that other El Paso County districts follow suit.

Attempts to make Election Day a federal holiday have been unsuccessful, though 14 states have made it a state holiday. Proposals for Texas to do the same have not gained traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014.