Voting officials look to the younger generation to help with election

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 2:14 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s an election year like no other. If you remember from the Georgia primaries this summer, it’s been a bumpy road.

Richmond County election leaders say they’re trying to be proactive to prevent problems at the polls and that starts with appealing to a younger crowd of volunteers.

Take brand new voting equipment that requires a certain level of technological expertise, mix in a global pandemic, and you get a recipe for Election Day needs that might require a younger generation.

It’s why election officials say they’re working with local schools to get teenagers working the polls.

The Richmond County Board of Elections’ partnership with the school system spans well before the pandemic.

“We felt like it was a great opportunity to give students the experience,” Richmond County Elections Board executive director Lynn Bailey said.

But it’s never been quite this necessary.

“This voting system is of a fairly technical nature in terms of the set up and break down of the equipment,” Bailey said.

Anyone with a grandparent knows technology comes much easier to a younger crowd.

“A long time ago, they said they used to do them on paper,” former student poll worker Oliver Hicks said. “Like real ballots. So walking in the building and you see these big machines, and you have to use the little stylus to use it.”

Hicks was one of the students recruited to work the polls in the primaries. It wasn’t just his technological skills that came in handy -- it was his age.

Bailey says the average poll worker is in their mid-60′s, which also happens to be one of the more at-risk COVID populations.

“Most of them were saying how they don’t really leave home, and if they do leave home, they go somewhere close by so they can hurry and get back,” Bailey said.

Bailey says Richmond County did have some volunteers call out for the elections.

“We’ve seen some decline. It hasn’t been overwhelming,” Bailey said.

But we were one of the lucky ones. Other counties, like in the Atlanta area, had major problems.

“I think COVID was much more prevalent and their numbers were much more on the rise,” Bailey said.

So far, only two out of the 42 Richmond County poll managers have decided to skip the elections this year. But with one of the biggest general elections in history coming up, Bailey says they’ll need to staff the sites with more volunteers than normal.

“Any time that we have a presidential election, the number of people required to manage it under normal circumstances is probably a quarter to a third higher than we would normally use,” Bailey said.

On top of that, they’ll need even more volunteers just to clean and ensure property safety precautions.

“We are filling in those gaps, but we have a nice reserve list built now, which is great,” Bailey said.

Bailey says her goal is to have at least one high schooler at every single polling site and that doesn’t include the college students who volunteer.

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