School Climate & Safety

‘Their Vote Matters’: Schools Provide Training to Students on Working the Polls

By Jenny Roberts, The Morning Call — November 08, 2022 4 min read
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.

Lanaisa McQueen, a senior at Allen High School, decided to work the polls on Election Day as a way to show the public that young women care about the future of government and politics.

“I want to encourage young women not to be afraid to vote,” said McQueen, who will be voting for the first time in this election. “Some people think that, ‘Oh, I’m a girl, maybe I won’t have a say-so,’ and I don’t want them to think like that.”

McQueen is one of about 80 high school students from Allen, Dieruff and Building 21 who will serve as poll workers Tuesday. This is the first time all three high schools have trained students for the Election Day gig. (Allen and Building 21 had students work the polls last spring.)

“We just want to make sure that our youth, especially inner city youth, know that they’re important, their vote matters, their vote counts, they can get involved,” said Diane Gordian, deputy chief clerk of elections for the Lehigh County Elections Office.

Gordian trained ASD students as poll workers at their neighborhood schools, alongside her colleague Alexandra Sierra, the county’s alternate language coordinator and community outreach liaison. They also trained about 30 students from Executive Education Academy Charter School.

Students must be at least 17 years old and speak English to work the polls as a clerk, which entails handing out ballots, assisting voters and maintaining the polling sites. Spanish-speaking students also may serve as interpreters.

Sierra said the most important thing for student poll workers to remember on Election Day is to remain neutral.

“Don’t talk about politics, don’t talk about parties,” she said. “You explain the process of what it is to go in and how they’re voting: ‘You check in, they’ll give you your ballot, you sit down, fill out your ballot. You yourself, the voter, put your ballot into the machine, you’ll get your sticker, and that’s the process.’ ”

Yovian Torres Gomez, an Allen senior, said he was surprised poll workers have to remain neutral on Election Day, but after hearing from Gordian and Sierra, he understands why.

“I think it’s reasonable because you don’t want to hypnotize or brainwash the voters,” he said.

During the primary election last spring, students from Building 21 and Allen’s EmPOWER Club served as poll workers in Allentown for the first time.

Rachel Zane, an Allen science teacher and adviser for EmPOWER, said the opportunity was a good way to talk to students about the importance of local elections, for positions such as district attorney.

Zane also said getting students to work at the polls gives them work experience to put on a resume.

“It’s getting that first job experience, getting an opportunity to have something to put on a job application that says that you were not only employed, you were doing a civic-minded thing,” she said, adding student translators can highlight their language skills.

Students earn $175 for attending training and working their post on Election Day.

They really felt a sense of pride.

Shannon Salter, partnership coordinator at Building 21 and a former social studies teacher, said the high school builds a culture of civic engagement by embedding voter participation in its senior government class.

“We’ve created sort of a surrogate civic family,” she said.

Building 21 has earned the Governor’s Civic Engagement Award every year since 2018 for registering at least 65% of eligible students to vote.

After expanding their efforts by registering family members and neighbors to vote, students still wanted to do more, she said, which led to them training and serving as poll workers for the primaries last spring.

“They really felt a sense of pride,” she said. “It also dispelled things they were hearing in the news.”

Salter said getting to see how elections are run helped students trust the electoral system.

“For the past couple of years, one of the biggest things we’ve talked about in the media is, ‘Are the elections fraudulent? Are they rigged?’ ” Salter said. “I had a couple poll workers who were like ‘It’s all sketchy, I don’t trust this’ come back the next day and say, ‘I don’t understand how people are talking about cheating in these elections. Now that I’ve seen it from the inside out, it’s not possible.’ ”

Salter said working the polls can be the first time some students see the voting process up close, especially in communities like Allentown, where there are many immigrant families.

“Students might be the first generation in their family eligible to vote,” she said. “They haven’t grown up immersed in that process every year.”

Mariana King, a junior at Allen, said her father, who is from Cuba, was surprised to learn she was able to serve as a poll worker Tuesday. He thought only government officials would do such a job.

King has used the opportunity as a way to talk to her family about the election. She said she loves talking about politics and getting involved in the Allentown community.

King also hopes voters are able to get all the information they need about candidates to make an informed vote Tuesday, especially when many of the political ads she’s seen on TV have been extreme, she said.

“I feel like it’s important for everybody to go out and vote,” she added. “Everybody needs to register. And young people need to be in the know, too. I think we need to get more involved in politics, because we are the political future.”

Copyright (c) 2022, The Morning Call. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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