COLUMBIA — Boone County will have help in the November elections because of a federal grant awarded to MU on Monday. The grant would help meet staffing needs created by complicated new technologies and volunteer shortages.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission will award 27 colleges, including MU, and nonprofit organizations $750,000 in federal grant money to recruit students to work at polls in November. MU will receive $25,705 of that money to conduct its recruitment.
“The university stepped up to the plate, and I think it’s going to be very beneficial,” said Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren, who worked with MU’s Truman School of Public Affairs to apply for the grant.
Noren said the program should help take away some of the dependence on retired people to work at the polls while introducing a crop of fresh faces to aid the General Election.
“The reality is that it’s becoming such a complicated process that a lot of our retired people really want some younger people to help out there,” Noren said.
Noren said a younger generation with a better understanding of technology would help not only by providing more poll workers but also by reducing the number of hours spent training them. She said she would need about 900 workers at 95 polling places in Boone County to help with the November elections.
David Valentine, MU’s associate director for public service at the Truman School of Public Affairs, said the time is right for young people to get involved.
“I think this is a good year to be doing this because of the nature of the election,” Valentine said. “We know younger people are more interested this year than they are in any other.”
The School of Public Affairs plans to create a Web site to publicize the opportunity and plans to recruit heavily on Facebook.com and Myspace.com, Valentine said. Students at MU, Stephens College and Columbia College would all be targeted for recruitment, he said, and he hopes to conduct a “test run” with the Aug. 5 primaries.
One of the missions of the EAC is to ease poll worker shortages. In the 2004 elections, 5.8 percent of polling places and 4 percent of precincts nationally reported having too few poll workers, according to an EAC Election Day survey.
“These grant programs will help not only recruit more poll workers for November but also recruit the next generation of poll workers by focusing on recruiting and educating younger Americans about the importance of civic participation on Election Day,” EAC chairwoman Rosemary Rodriguez said.
This is the third election cycle in which the EAC awarded funding and the first year MU received funding. The commission estimates that 8,800 college students will become poll workers nationally, compared with 2004 and 2006, when about 5,000 students served. Noren said she hopes to get at least 60 students to work in Boone County.