Election officials try to recruit younger poll workers

ByABC News
September 29, 2008, 6:46 PM

WASHINGTON -- Britany Rickett had barely approached the recruiting table when Alison Prevost rushed into her pitch urging the Howard University student to sign up as a poll worker for November's election.

"It's one of the best ways to see how our elections really go on," Prevost told the potential recruit before going straight to the point. "We need young people."

From American University in Washington, D.C., to tribal colleges in South Dakota, schools are teaming with local election officials to recruit an army of younger poll workers for Election Day to complement and one day replace older workers.

In Washoe County, election officials also are targeting high school students.

"We really want young people to be involved," said Dan Burk, the Washoe County registrar of voters, whose office also recruits college students. "They're going to inherit this process."

With record turnouts expected, federal election officials say they need at least 2 million poll workers. They hope many will be college students, who experts say tend to be more comfortable with electronic voting machines and computerized registration databases.

Jennifer Collins-Foley, president of The Pollworker Institute said election officials should constantly "shore up" their work forces.

"If you are going to look for a new pool of people, why not look for people who have energy and enthusiasm ... and then hopefully become lifelong voters," Collins-Foley said.

Election officials have long relied on a reliable corps of senior citizens to work the polls. But many of those workers the average age is about 75 are uncomfortable with new voting equipment and regulations required under the federal elections reform law passed in 2002.

So the federal Election Assistance Commission that was created under the new law has given colleges and nonpartisan groups $1.6 million since 2004 to help recruit college students as poll workers.

"It kind of was born out of necessity," said Rosemary Rodiguez, commission chairwoman. "It's great to know there's someone to hand the baton to."