There were a lot of other standout moments from that class, including the month we spent organizing and running our own political party convention. But the experience that has stuck with me the most over the years is the day I spent working at my local polling station. I will confess, my motivations weren’t entirely civically minded. Mr. Larsen offered every student who served as a poll worker extra credit. Extra credit AND you get to miss a day of school – it was a no-brainer.
I remember having to wake up even earlier than I usually did for my 7:40am school day. But that just meant people could squeeze their voting in between dropping their kids off and heading to work. I remember getting a whole hour for my lunch break – a true luxury in the context of my high school schedule that allotted only 35 minutes to get all the way to Taco Bell and back. I brought chocolate chip cookies back for the other poll workers and felt like a true hero. And when my mom picked me up that night, one of the other volunteers told her that if it weren’t for Mr. Larsen’s Government students, they would have had a lot of trouble staffing their polling locations. Even though it was small, I had made a contribution.
The reason this comes to mind is because Wednesday was National Poll Worker Recruitment Day. The majority of the people who volunteer and work at the polls in this country are over 61 years old, right in the category of people most at risk of COVID-19 complications. States and counties generally have difficulty staffing their polling locations, and this year will be even more of a challenge. So maybe we should follow Mr. Larsen’s lead and tap into all that pent-up youth energy.
Working at the polls is not for everyone. If you or someone you live with is immunocompromised, sitting indoors with a bunch of strangers all day is not a good idea. But if you’re healthy and you can, I’d love to see a bunch of teenagers take on this responsibility. And you don’t have to be one of those kids who spends your weekends at Model UN conferences and can quote The West Wing from memory. Do it because you get to take the day off of school – and in many places, you get paid! It doesn’t matter why you work at the polls, just that you do.
If you’re interested, you can start the sign-up process here: https://www.powerthepolls.org/. Or you can visit your local county elections office website. You won’t necessarily get extra credit (although you should), but you’ll have a pretty memorable day. Take it from me.