STUDENT POLL WORKERS

Yesterday was election day. I had the radio on almost all day as I went about my chores, went for a walk, ran some errands, and basically waited for returns to begin coming in and election parties to open. I was anxious to learn what the next two years were going to look like — locally, statewide, and nationally. I heard a lot of prognosticating, a lot of hypothesizing, a lot of hope and fear and nervous laughter. ┬áSome of the commentary provided good background for many of the day’s races, much of it was rehash and pretty tedious.

My favorite story of the day, however, was one I heard fairly early in the morning. It was about student poll workers in San Francisco. Students from many of the high schools in The City had applied and been accepted to the High School Poll Worker program which allowed them to work at the election polls, earn extra money, gain civic experience, in some cases earn extra credit for a class or fulfill required volunteer hours, and even act as translators.

Just on the surface it’s such a smart program! There’s nothing better at building interest and enthusiasm than getting kids working at real jobs where they are needed and valued and accomplishing something. What was even more powerful, however, was to hear the excitement in the voices of the several high school poll workers interviewed for the story. They were all immigrant kids who were thrilled to get a bird’s eye view of the voting process in this country, and they were awestruck by the democratic process in the United States and its availability to all citizens. They exuded respect for our system of government and all expressed an interest in pursuing careers in politics or public policy. And they liked helping people. Doesn’t get much better than that — for them, or for the future of this country.

Then this morning I picked up the San Jose┬áMercury News and saw an article entitled, “Students help out at polls.” The article was about students in Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting of a young black man by a white policeman several months earlier had caused weeks of civil unrest. In past years only a handful of students had responded to a request from the St. Louis County Election Board for student volunteers, but this year 26 were participating. A civics teacher noted that the summer’s events had prompted a heightened interest in the election process and students were taking advantage of an opportunity to participate in that process in an effort to make their voices heard. Again, these Ferguson students exhibited a respect for the system, as well as respect for themselves that allowed them to recognize their right and ability to be heard in and work within the system.

We hear so much about low voter turnout, especially among the youth of this nation. I’m so glad to have heard this part of the story, the part that tells of students not only wanting to vote but also wanting to participate in the system, and would like to encourage more of just this kind of activity. It clearly helps our young people see just how interesting and important the political process of this country is, as well as understand they can actually have an impact on that political process, that that process is worthy of respect, and that one can work within the process respectfully.