URBANA — Election officials in Clark and Champaign counties are turning to high school students to assist at precincts this year, as many older poll workers remain in warmer climates until later this spring.
Doing so benefits both students and voters, local election officials said. The students often get their first exposure to local politics, while voters and older poll workers trust the younger generation with the rapidly changing technology at polling locations. Finding and training poll workers is a constant challenge for election officials, and students can help fill that gap.
“This election being the presidential primary, it’s early in March and a lot of our poll workers go south for the winter,” said Sally Pickarski, deputy director at the Clark County Board of Elections.
While only a handful of students are expected to work at precincts in Champaign County in March, officials in Clark County said they received a list of close to 30 volunteers. Not all will work as poll workers; some will help unload ballots from vehicles on election night and others will help direct voters to the right precinct.
Kathy Meyer, director of the Champaign County Board of Elections, said it’s difficult to estimate how much it takes to train and pay poll workers in an average year because elections can vary so much depending on the issues and candidates on the ballot. Special elections and other factors can play a role as well.
In a rough estimate, paying 112 poll workers $101.50 a day on Election Day, along with a $15 training session for each worker, would cost the county about $26,100 for two elections in one year in Champaign County. That figure also does not take into account poll workers who are trained but later drop out, mileage paid to presiding judges at precincts and a wide range of other factors.
In Clark County, there are 100 precincts with four individuals per precinct. Presiding judges are paid $111.50 while the remaining poll workers are paid $101.50, along with a $10 training session.
Meyer said there are some rules regarding students who work at polling locations. Only one student is allowed to serve at each precinct, for example, and no student is allowed to serve as a presiding judge until reaching 18. Students must be at least 17 years old to work at precincts.
Morgan Walton, a senior at Kenton Ridge High School, will work at a precinct near her home in Champaign County this year.
“I think the thing that got me involved the most was community service,” Walton said.
Richard Dickert, a social studies teacher at Graham High School, said he’s encouraged his students to get more involved for the last couple years. He noted young adults historically have a low voter turnout rate, and this is a good way to get them involved early.
“I think it’s a great learning experience, and it’s also good (public relations) for the school because they’re doing community service as well,” Dickert said.
Donald Moore, a teacher at Kenton Ridge High School, said along with working at the polls, he encourages his students to assist as ballots are dropped off at the board of elections. Other students help direct voters to the right precinct at polling locations.
“At least here it’s something the students look forward to when they become seniors,” Monroe said.
Meyer said one of the few drawbacks to training high school students is that they often go away to college after working an election, so the retention rate is low.
But Pickarski said even one day at the polls helps. “Some of our more seasoned workers like that extra help,” Pickarski said.