A state lawmaker hopes to bring more election workers to Ohio polls by drawing from a largely untapped resource: college students.
Introduced by Republican Rep. Larry Wolpert, a newly proposed bill would lift residency restrictions on Ohio students who wish to work at polls in the voting precinct where they attend college.
Currently, individuals can only work at polls in the precinct where they are registered to vote. Allowing college students to work at polls outside of their own voting precinct will help combat the demand for Election Day workers in many Ohio districts, Wolpert said.
“It’s a problem in some districts,” Wolpert said. “And the poll workers we have are aging. The average age of a poll worker is 70 in Franklin County.”
The legislation would not allow students to vote outside their registered precinct, and will likely not go into effect by Ohio’s March 4 primary.
Glenda Enders, deputy director of the Portage County Board of Elections, said she would welcome the expansion of eligible poll workers, including college students.
“If you get them in high school they go away to college,” Enders said. “So we always welcome new poll workers – they’re hard to get.”
And it’s not just a problem in Ohio. State officials across the country are struggling with the challenge of finding poll workers, and expanding opportunities to interested college students may be one solution, said Doug Chapin, director of electiononline.org, a Washington-based nonpartisan Web site that follows election reform.
“I think that for those students who are interested in the process, they’re enthusiastic enough that this is something worth looking into for them,” Chapin said. “Maybe college students as a whole won’t be interested, but some will be.”
Chapin also said evolving voting technology presents a problem to many older poll workers.
“Many of the folks we have now have been working at the polls for years, and they’re aging,” he said. “Many of them don’t even have computers in their home, and the new technology demands a different skill set.”
Democratic Rep. Kathleen Chandler said while she has not yet made a decision on Wolpert’s bill, she hopes legislation will lessen the growing struggle for many Ohio precincts to find poll workers.
“Traditionally there was a long list of people who wanted to work at the polls,” Chandler said. “But now that more people work it’s becoming difficult to find them. It sounds like an interesting idea, but I would have to hear the testimony.”
Wolpert said he hopes expanding college students’ opportunities to participate on election days will help foster a new found interest in politics and the electoral process.
“The voting turn out is abominable (for college age voters),” Wolpert said. “But the grassroots element of democracy is voting. It could get young people interested in democracy. I’m excited about it.”
Contact student politics reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected]