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Tennessee Election Officials Always Worry About Lack Of Poll Workers. Teenagers Are Making It Better


Tennessee has launched a campaign to help counties recruit poll workers amid the coronavirus pandemic. About 3,000 have signed up through this initiative. Many of them are teenagers.

Alayna Fuson, 16, started as a poll worker earlier this month. She is not old enough to vote, but she is helping run the elections in Henry County.

“I just thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about it,” she says, “because I really didn’t know anything about it.”

Fuson can be a poll worker thanks to a new law that lowered the minimum age to serve to 16. In Henry County, nearly one-third of those working the August elections are 18 or younger.

DeLaina Green, the elections administrator, told WPLN News planning for this year’s events has not been easy.

“Oh, you cannot even imagine,” Green says. “With COVID it has been a very challenging election.”

But, Green says that recruiting younger people has made it better, although at times complicated.

First, it’s not that easy to get hold of teenagers during the summer break. And, when she finds those interested, she has to convince them to attend the training.

“You know, the mindset of a 16-year-old — even though they take school very seriously, they are dedicated to their sports — I need them to understand the importance of when you attend training, that means that you are making a commitment,” Green says.

Poll workers in Henry County and across the state get paid. So, Green says that has been an incentive. But having a connection has also been important.

Many of the poll workers are in the same class as her daughter Callie. The 17-year-old has been working during early voting and has already learned a valuable lesson applicable to most situations in life.

“To have patience. Definitely,” Callie Green says. “It’s basically just like a patience game.”

She says this experience has motivated her to vote when she turns 18. And the state’s coordinator of elections, Mark Goins, wants teenagers like Callie stay for future electoral events.

“We certainly do think that the experience in August will help the younger poll officials that we have for November,” Goins says. “We hope they stay with us.”

More: For information on becoming a poll official, click here.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.
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