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 principle, 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:
- 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?
- High School Poll Worker recruitment flyer details about time commitment and compensation. Would youth emphasize other information and pick other photos?
- 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!