Grant provides extra help from student poll workers

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 | 5:08 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - When MU received a grant in June to recruit students to work at polling places this fall, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren hoped for about 60 students, and just a few to help out in a test run in Tuesday's primary election.

But after a months of recruitment, 320 students responded to the program, said David Valentine, the associate director for public service at the Truman School of Public Affairs.

"We were really happy with the turnout," Valentine said.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission awarded 27 colleges, including MU, and nonprofit organizations $750,000 in federal grant money to recruit students to work at polls in November. MU received $25,705 of that money to conduct its recruitment.

Noren said there wasn't enough room for all of the students who signed up, and that many were deferred to the general election. She said 250 people signed up as poll workers for Tuesday's primaries, 110 of whom were students.

"(MU) continued accepting names after I said ‘don't send me anymore,'" Noren said. "It has added a tremendous workload on me, but it will pay big dividends in October or November."

The students enrolled as poll workers went to two training sessions: one to learn about the program the county clerk's office uses to change addresses and look up polling places, and another to understand the general process on election day. Noren was particularly interested in getting students' help with the computer program because students have a broader knowledge of technology, she said.

"They pick up on things so quickly," Noren said. "I don't have to teach them things about how to turn on the cell phone. I would never be able to train a lot of the older election judges to use laptops."

But because so many students signed up, they found themselves with more responsibilities than handling the tech side of things. Some students worked as troubleshooters, going around to different polling places and helping where they could, while others served as regular election judges.

Tanya Horvath, a first-year law student at MU, said she was interested in the program because she wanted to get another perspective of the political process.

"I was looking for a change from the day-to-day things, and I'm really involved in politics," Horvath said. "The more experience you can get with things like this, the more you will be involved with the whole process."

Noren said she's excited so many students are interested, and getting their training out of the way this summer should help in the fall.

"It really puts me in a good place in November," Noren said. "They can get their feet wet and come back in November. It'll work much better if they've had a day to see how it works."

In June, the Missouri secretary of state's office announced $500,000 in new funding for the recruitment of student poll workers. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan said in a news release that the student workers will provide additional help needed to handle the expected high turnout in November.

"There is nothing better students can do to learn about our great democracy than work side by side with our poll workers who have been participating for years," Carnahan said in the release. "We expect high turnout this fall, and we will need many more people working the polls to ensure a smooth election for Missouri voters."


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