WASHINGTON- Election officials across the nation are recruiting college students to increase the numbers and capabilities of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who make up the nation’s stable of paid volunteer poll workers.
According to data collected by EAC, states reported that 10.5 percent of poll workers serving during the 2008 presidential election were 25 years of age or younger. While comparable data is not available from earlier elections, anecdotal evidence suggests election officials are more actively seeking tech-savvy college students to serve as poll workers, particularly to help administer electronic poll books and voting machines.
Boone County, Missouri, for example, has reported a rapid increase in the number of college poll workers it employs. After establishing partnerships with local universities and colleges to recruit poll workers in 2008, the county has seen the number of student poll workers increase from 5 percent in 2006 to an estimated 40 percent in 2010.
Election officials cite many reasons for targeting college students, such as their flexibility, energy, and enthusiasm for public service, but the reason they most often give is students’ comfort level and experience with technology. “Students have grown up with technology and are able to learn new applications very quickly. Their technical skills complement seasoned poll workers who have a keen understanding of the voting process but may not be as confident using technology,” said EAC Executive Director Tom Wilkey.
Technology has become more important in election administration over the past eight years with the establishment of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which provided funding and guidelines for modernizing voting technology, specifically statewide voter registration databases and voting systems.
Congress also recognizes the value of recruiting college poll workers, establishing in 2002 the Help America Vote (HAVA) College Program, a grant initiative administered by EAC that has provided $3.1 million since 2004 to recruit college students as poll workers. The program has provided grants to 72 colleges and universities and 17 nonprofit organizations throughout 30 states, and has recruited tens of thousands of poll workers.
Boone County was a beneficiary of the program as was Orange County, Florida, which formed a partnership in 2004 with local colleges that now provide the county with roughly 10 percent of its poll workers.
Finding qualified poll workers is an ongoing challenge for election officials. Among jurisdictions reporting data to EAC for the 2008 presidential election, nearly half reported having at least some difficulty recruiting enough poll workers. EAC data from states indicate that roughly 900,000 poll workers served in the 2008 presidential election and approximately 700,000 in the 2006 mid-term election.
Poll workers carry out a variety of important duties, including verifying the identity of a voter, setting up voting machines and administering provisional ballots. EAC recently saluted the nation’s poll workers with a National Election Worker Appreciation Resolution.
To learn more about poll workers or how to become one, visit www.eac.gov.
EAC is an independent commission created by the Help America Vote Act. EAC serves as a national clearinghouse and resource of information regarding election administration. It is charged with administering payments to states and developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and accrediting voting system test laboratories and certifying voting equipment. It is also charged with developing and maintaining a national mail voter registration form. The three EAC commissioners are Donetta Davidson, chair; Gracia Hillman; and Gineen Bresso. There is one vacancy on the commission.
Source: EAC Website