|PHS & Taconic Students Recruited as Poll Workers for Election|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff |
03:58AM / Thursday, October 01, 2020
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — You may notice a younger population working at the polls in Pittsfield this November.
About 23 students from Pittsfield and Taconic high schools have been recruited as poll workers for the fall election because of an increase in demand.
Back in June at the end of the school year, City Clerk Michele Benjamin got in touch with Pittsfield High School teacher Heather Tierney over her concern about a lack of poll workers. This is when they had the idea to recruit high school students.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, more hands are needed at each polling station to ensure that everything is sanitized and federal and state health guidelines are followed. Also, more than 50 percent of the national population of poll workers are older than 60 years and are at high risk to the novel coronavirus.
As of early September, 250,000 new poll workers were needed nationwide. Last week, CNBC stated that a total of about 900,000 poll workers are needed across the United States for voting to run smoothly. Without a sufficient amount of poll workers, lines would be extremely long and polling sites without workers may be closed.
Long lines and fewer voting sites run the risk of disenfranchising voters, who may opt out of voting.
Benjamin said the recruitment of high school students means there will be "more than enough" poll workers. She said had Pittsfield removed from an email list of locations that need more workers because every position has been filled.
"We're not taking new election workers," she said on Wednesday. "We're taking their applications and putting them on a sub list, but right now we would love to go with the same kids from November and, possibly in future years, get a new group of kids when these age out, become adults, and move on with their own lives."
Benjamin credits most of the recruitment to Tierney, saying, "Heather worked her tail off, and I want to give her credit for what she did."
They first ran it by Superintendent of Schools Jacob McCandless, who responded that it was a great idea. Benjamin and Tierney had previously worked together on a couple of projects involving registering students to vote once they turn 18. Benjamin said she knew Tierney would be great to work with on this because she is good at getting students engaged in politics.
The first students to be recruited were senior members of the PHS Class Council 2021. When first recruited, they believed they would be working on a volunteer basis and were enthusiastic about becoming poll workers.
"Once we got a hold of them they were very excited about the opportunity," Tierney said. "So it made it pretty easy to convince them to work."
The students were paid a stipend for their work, but Benjamin described it as a "little added bonus" since they didn't know they would be paid. They didn't work the polls for the money, she said, because they didn't even know they would be. Rather the students did it because they wanted to be involved in the electoral process.
After being chosen by Tierney, which Benjamin stated was "passing the first test," they attended Zoom training along with all of the previous election workers. They will be filling spots as the chief election worker, warden, the clerk, and the four inspectors that check voters in and out.
Tierney says she has gotten positive feedback from the students regarding their experience working at the polls on Sept. 1.
"They really got a lot out of it," she said. "And I think they surprised themselves at how much fun they had and how interesting they found it. It also really engaged them in the process and if they were not registered to vote before, I'm sure they are now."
She also says these students are very engaged in the current political climate and in our immediate future as a country.
In response to COVID-19, the state changed age restrictions for poll workers to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be eligible with a guardian's permission. Before, poll workers were required to be 18 years old and be a registered voter. This gives younger people the opportunity to learn about the voting process before they are of age, and in turn makes them more proficient voters when they turn 18.
Benjamin said the city will be receiving funds from the state to help cover the cost of the additional election workers. The state also ordered screen guards for every municipality in the state along with personal protective equipment and sanitizing materials. She said the state has also been very proactive in promoting social distancing and cleanliness.
She explained the extent at which everything needs to be sanitized at a polling site, including every single pen.
"You don't even think about it, normally you just pick up a pen in a voting booth and use it, but we made it so that at the check in you got a pen, and then you bring it to check out and it gets sanitized," Benjamin said, explaining the crucial role that additional poll workers play.
Benjamin and Tierney assure the public that voting is "totally safe" because of these extra workers and extra measures put into place.
"You shouldn't be nervous to go out and vote" Benjamin said. "We've taken all the precautions that we possibly can."