Student Election Poll Workers

More than half the states have lowered the age to 16 for poll workers. Opening up these paid positions certainly signals an attitudinal shift.

November 3, 2020 is guaranteed to be a historic election. COVID has thrown a wrench into the entire system of voting. Even prior to the pandemic, election officials foresaw a crisis. Staffing polling sites has been increasingly difficult and now an estimated 250K workers are needed. The shortage is predictable with 60% who are 61 or older. One solution gaining traction is to widen the pipeline by relying on those not yet old enough to vote. 

More than half the states–34–have lowered the age to 16 for poll workers. Opening up these paid positions certainly signals an attitudinal shift. Teens can be trusted for this serious work as election judges. Most states pay minimum wage to cover hours spent for both prior training and election day. Bottom line: demographics demand it. 

It is not only the graying of America that necessitates engaging high school students but their digital skills fill a real need at polling stations. This trend is an example of multigenerational collaboration but if state and county board of election officials applied our Youth Infusion process, this opportunity to participate in our democracy could be dramatically different by intentionally engaging the most marginalized and underrepresented. 

NOW IMAGINE REAL YOUTH INPUT

Let’s imagine how a group of young consultants could have contributed if they had been involved at the very start in weighing numerous decisions that could result in a broader pool of student poll workers who could have this rare civic leadership experience. A few hypothetical examples: 

  1. Eligibility requirements range from 2.5 GPA, 3.0 in other states, to “exemplary academic standing.” Would these grades deny too many deserving students this opportunity?
  2. High School Poll Worker recruitment flyer details about time commitment and compensation. Would youth emphasize other information and pick other photos?
  3. Application questions like Utah’s include “Are you comfortable working with electronic equipment and entering voter information on a tablet/computer?” Would they reword this requirement?

In this case, young people can be enlisted to flag and circumvent potential barriers that could prevent their peers from applying, for example, having to print out the document and have postage stamps. In addition to inside knowledge of Generation Z, collaborating with a cohort of teens begins to pull down the wall of age segregation. We envision structural organizational change where boards of elections would intentionally recruit young people to expand those involved on the frontlines not only on Nov 3rd but every election day.

What’s your reaction about this trend of trusting teens with this responsibility? We are eager to hear your opinion!

How Old is Youth Infusion?

It still doesn’t seem radical for youth-serving organizations to involve the very people they serve in decisions from setting priorities, designing programs, evaluating services to pursuing systems change.

Nearly 20 years ago, I coined the term Youth Infusion. This concept emerged at a retreat organized by the Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development at the National 4-H Center.

Back then and even now it does not seem radical for youth-serving organizations to involve the very people they serve in decisions from setting priorities, designing programs, evaluating services to pursuing systems change.

My idealism endures. One reason for optimism is senior level professionals at youth-serving organizations recognize another special level of power among the rising generation. Their influence and impact challenges the primary rationale of intergenerational engagement that only is anchored to positive youth development (PYD).

Could it be that adults and organizations also benefit from sustained collaboration with Generation Z? 

This 2002 conference that remains a vivid memory produced Youth in Decision-Making: A Study on the Impacts of Youth on Adults and Organizations which spells out four key advantages for Youth Infusion.

  1. Adults experienced the competence of youth first-hand, and began to perceive young people as legitimate, crucial contributors to organizational decision-making processes.
  2. Working with youth served to enhance the commitment and energy of adults to the organization.
  3. Adults felt more effective and more confident in working with and relating to youth.
  4. Adults came to understand the needs and concerns of youth, and became more attuned to programming issues, making them more likely to reach outside the organization to share their knowledge and insights. They gained a stronger sense of community connectedness.

Which advantages stand out to you? What other benefits would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Youth ALWAYS Matter

There are some people in our society who think that there are times and places where young people should not or do not need to be involved. Since we know that people under 18-years-old make up more than 29% of the world’s population, that’s an unfortunate belief.

Youth always matter.

There are some people in our society who think that there are times and places where young people should not or do not need to be involved. Since we know that people under 18-years-old make up more than 29% of the world’s population, that’s an unfortunate belief.

These children and youth are members of families, neighborhoods, schools, faith groups, and organizations of all kinds.

Many work, spend money, and contribute to society in meaningful ways.

Volunteering is a serious habit among many Gen Zers who start their own groups, engage in community organizing, join coalitions, advocate for policy changes, build local and even global movements.

Even the young people who are not contributing otherwise inherently matter.

“The young, free to act on their initiative, can lead their elders in the direction of the unknown. The children, the young, must ask the questions that we would never think to ask, but enough trust must be re-established so that elders will be permitted to work with them on the answers.” – Margaret Mead (Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap, pp. 73-74) .

This is the preamble of why Youth Infusion is such an opportunity and so critical! We’d love to know what you think. Share your thoughts in the comments section!