A Thousand Teens to Assume Franklin County Poll Working Duties

Dublin Coffman students learn to set up electronic voting machines
Dublin Coffman students learn to set up electronic voting machines

Elections officials in Franklin County say at least 20% of poll workers on Election Day will be teenagers, 17 and 18 years of age. Some may be too young to vote, but if they complete the required training they will be certified as elections workers under a bill signed into law in January.

At least one poll worker at each Franklin County precinct this November will be a high school senior. About a thousand students have been recruited from 30 local high schools. These Dublin Coffman students were being trained Monday to set up electronic voting machines.

“You’re most likely going to help out with the machines getting them set up and the first thing you’re going to do is you’re going to have a lock here that’s going to be closing this up “

The average age of a poll worker in the U.S. is 72. But at least half of the states now allow under-age poll workers. Ohio joined the list in January when Governor Taft signed a bill into law. The teen workers receive the same 3 to 4 hours’ training as their older counterparts according to county elections director Matt Damschroder.

“The young people, ‘the youth at the booth,’ receive the exact same training as an older poll worker,” Damschroder says. “They have the same rights and requirements; they are the same kind of election official on Election Day.”

They’ll also receive the same salary – usually $110. For that they’ll work from 5:30 in the morning until 8:30 at night with an hour off for lunch. The 18 year olds are encouraged to vote absentee, but they can use their lunch hour to cast their ballot at the appropriate precinct.

The student poll worker idea started at Columbus Alternative High School, according to Damschroder. It gained momentum with the help of the group Kids Voting Central Ohio. The group’s executive director says a study several years ago found that young people were reluctant to vote because they did not know what to expect inside the polling place. Suzanne Helmick says students who’ve worked as polling officials are more likely to vote – and to encourage their friends to do likewise.

“They also come away with a sense of how important people in the community feel that voting is, especially those who are in line at 6:30 in the morning,” Helmick says. “That really makes an impression on some of these students. And then we’ve also heard that they were really impacted by seeing how few young people were voting.”

The students at Dublin Coffman were reminded that as official poll workers they would take an oath of office and were not to be treated as helpers or errand runners.