Teens work as poll workers in presidential election

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Voting machine trainer Addison Clark explains closing down the machine to Jaquale Mullens (at left) and Kelsey Dragani.(Photo: Mandie Trimble)
Voting machine trainer Addison Clark explains closing down the machine to Jaquale Mullens (at left) and Kelsey Dragani.(Photo: Mandie Trimble)

In a little more than a month thousands of people in Franklin County will head to the polls to cast their ballot in what’s considered one of the most historical elections in American history. And, like always, poll workers will be there to answer questions and help with any problems with the electronic ballots. But this presidential election year is a little different, some of those poll workers are too young to even vote.

Addison Clark is a voting machine trainer for the Franklin County Board of Elections. He stands behind an electronic voting machine pointing at a reel of tape in the machine. He and about a dozen other trainers are in the Eastland Career Center gymnasium in Grove Port showing potential poll workers the ins and outs of

These potential poll workers are not typical: they’re not retired, they don’t have white hair. Instead, these potential poll workers are still in high school and most of them can not even vote.

About 1,200 Franklin County high school seniors will work at the polls November Fourth in what’s called Youth at the Booth. Kids Voting, a non-partisan organization that teaches children and teens about the country’s democratic system, coordinates Youth at the Booth. The teen poll workers must be high school seniors, at least 17-years-old and a student in good standing.

Debbie Koch helps coordinate Youth at the Booth with the Franklin County Board of Elections. Koch said she’s not sure the teens understand at this point the magnitude of this election or the importance of their roles as poll workers.

“I think that they will see who is voting, who is taking the time to vote. And they’ll see how the process works and they’ll have a better feeling of how the board of elections runs the operation, and how secure the information and those kinds of things,” Koch said.

Youth at the Booth started in 2006 after a group of high school seniors helped pass legislation in Ohio making it legal for them to work at the polls. Koch said the program has since doubled its number of youth workers.

On this day 17-year-old Jaquale Mullens, a senior at Groveport Madison High School, is getting her required two hours of training. She’s in Addison Clark’s training group. Mullens said the training has been a little stressful, but she said she thinks she’s going to enjoy being a poll worker. When asked if she realizes she taking part in a historical election she said…

“It won’t probably hit me until I actually get to the voter registration and everyone’s in here voting. So as I right now I don’t notice how big it is,” Mullens said.

Poll workers are going to have a very long day. The polls may open at 7:30 in the morning, but workers have to be there at 5:30. And there’s no concession for the students. Koch said the teens have been told over and over again to be prepared for at least a 14-hour day.

“The polls close at 7:30 (p.m.), but sometimes people are in line at 7:30 (p.m.) and those people will still vote. There also is a circumstance where the court could order a poll to be open later, and those students would still be required to stay for the entire time,” Koch said.

Mullens casually brushed off the long day.

“Well, I don’t get any sleep anyway. So I guess I can do it.”

17-year-old Devin Delaney also attends Groveport Madison High School. Here’s why he chose to be a poll worker.

“One of the biggest reasons is it looks good on college applications for volunteer work. I’m wanting to go to Ohio State and that’ll look good on that application,” he said.

While Delaney said he was a little nervous at first about learning how to operate the voting machines he’s confident everything will be OK come Election Day. And Delaney’s sure he can handle the long day, the possibility of long lines and grumpy voters.

“I work at a retail store and I’ve worked long days before. So I’m used to greeters, I’m used to working with problems, disgruntled customers. So, I’m used to it. So I shouldn’t have too big a problem. I feel like I got a step ahead,” Delaney said.

In the two-hour training session at Eastland Career Center some students look concerned, others nod in understanding, others, well, yawn.

WOSU asked trainer Clark if he thinks the teens are up to task.

“We find that they’re a good addition to the poll workers as long as they show up. The last election I had a student who was supposed to show up and didn’t. So that happens sometimes, but when they show up they’re very good,” Clark said.

And Clark admits there is a lot to learn. But he reassures the students they’ll be fine.

“What I tell them is you’ll be working with people who have worked the polls before. You won’t be alone; you’ll have a lot of help. And it’s worth while.” he said.

There was one student who decided all of it would not be worth while. 18-year-old Kelsey Dragani goes to Groveport Madison High School. She went through the training, and at the end of it decided against working at the polls. She said the pay was too low for the amount of work she’d have to do.

“Now when you came in here today where you aware that you were only going to get paid, you said, $110? Yeah, but it sunk in that I would have to do so much,” she said.

But Dragani does not think the program is a bad one, it’s just not right for her.

“I think it’s great that people can participate in Youth at the Booth. It gives the young people a chance to understand really what it’s all about.”

Youth at the Booth coordinator Debbie Koch said voters in the last election reacted positively to the teen poll workers. And she said the older poll workers liked having them there, too.

“They have enjoyed the intergenerational communication. Now this election might be a little different, they might not have much time to communicate because they probably will be very busy,” Koch said.

Government and law teacher at Eastland Career Center Matt Stein said the Youth at the Booth program lets the students better understand how the electoral process works and gives them real life hands-on experience.

“Hopefully we encourage them to become contributing, functioning members of society that go out and vote in the future,” he said.

Students will get a second opportunity to work with the electronic voting machines before Election Day in a session called Practice Makes Perfect.