Teens volunteer as poll workers in coming election

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — High school students not yet old enough to vote are going to make up their largest percentage ever of volunteer poll workers in San Mateo County this November.

Of the 2,200 citizens asked to volunteer their day Nov. 7 by working the polls, nearly 23 percent, or 500, will be high school students from around the county who might otherwise be stuck behind a desk in school.

Nadia Nazir, a 17-year-old senior at South San Francisco High School, received her training on the new Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines yesterday after school along with 26 of her fellow South San Francisco students.

Nazir said she was looking forward to helping people at the polling stations and wished she could join them in making selections for local, state and federal government. She said she’s not worried about any problems that might arise.

“I like challenges,” Nazir said. “I feel like I can handle it. I handle a lot in my life already.”

San Mateo County Elections Manager David Tom said the vastly expanded student pollworker program this year, which has been around since 2004, was in part an effort to bring young people into the democratic process and in part simply a way to supplement the pool of pollworkers.

The volunteers have traditionally been retired citizens who have the time to spend a day monitoring polls from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“You have two spectrums where we can get some help,” Tom said. “One end is people who are retired and the other end now is student poll workers.”

Students must have a minimum 2.5 grade point average, be at least 16 years of age and be a citizen in order to work the polls. In South San Francisco High School’s case, there were so many applicants that they were required to write an essay about why they wanted to participate.

The new eSlate machines have a selection wheel, much like iPods, and the incorporation of newer technology into the process could make the teenage volunteers “invaluable” to the county, said Ashley Gray, an American Government teacher at South San Francisco High School.

“Our students feel very valued,” Gray said. “They’re more comfortable with higher technology equipment.”

dsmith@examiner.com

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