Two Sidwell Friends Students Get Young Volunteers into Poll Positions

Any Sidwell Friends students who are 18 can vote—and, given the prevalence of early and mail-in voting, likely already have. But a lot of citizens across DC, Maryland, and Virginia still plan to turn out to vote on Election Day. Unfortunately, that means a lot of people out in public and waiting in line during a pandemic. It also means a shortage of poll workers, because “poll workers are usually senior citizens, and COVID obviously poses a lot more risk to them,” says Eva Youel Page ’21. “So to prevent polls from being closed and to make sure that everyone still has the same access that they would during a normal election year, there was an effort to recruit student poll workers.”

That effort began with the School’s friends at Georgetown Day School, whose Student Action Committee started a project to sign up students as poll workers. “We heard about the opportunity from [Upper School history teacher] Mr. Steinbach,” says Youel Page. “He introduced us to the GDS students, and then we began working with them to start the same initiative at Sidwell.”

Interested students first have to fill out a form with their age, name, and county. They then will receive an email that describes the paperwork and the training they will need to complete to qualify as poll workers in a given county. That training not only protects those serving as poll workers and election judges; it protects the voting process itself.

“Because of COVID, fewer people are inclined to go to the polls,” Vera Chaudhry ’22 says. “But it’s important to make sure that all of the poll locations are open so that you don’t have an influx of people at a very few locations where it’s unsafe or where people decide not to vote because they don’t have access.”

Thanks to the combined efforts of students at Sidwell Friends and Georgetown Day School, over 200 people signed up to work the polls in some capacity. Youel Page and Chaudhry have even heard from younger Sidwell Friends students—some whose voting years are still a long way off. “We’ve gotten a lot of students who are under 16 who are really interested in volunteering,” Chaudhry says. Though younger students cannot act as official poll workers, there is a program that gets them involved: The Future Vote Program in Montgomery County allows kids from 6th to 12th grade to act as poll volunteers, guiding people through the process. “You’re not working at the table as an election judge, you’re not working with the equipment,” Chaudhry says, “but you’re ensuring that the day runs smoothly.” Unfortunately, the Future Vote Program is not available this year due to COVID-19.

But for those who can volunteer to work the polls during this unprecedented time, Sidwell Friends is supporting those students with flexible scheduling and credit for their service hours.

“It’s not a huge time commitment,” Chaudhry says. “It’s one day—and the School is giving us the day off in a sense because they’re changing the schedule.”

“We’re coordinating a service-hours effort with the School,” Youel Page adds. “So, if Upper School students work the polls, they could get however many hours they volunteer added to their graduation total. That’s a good benefit, but it’s also just a nice thing to do for your community to make sure that senior citizens stay safe and to make sure that everyone in your community can vote.”

Chaudhry agrees: “Whether you’re interested in politics or whether you care about COVID or whether you want to protect your community, there are lots of reasons to get involved.”

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