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Raiding the Genius Bar for Poll Workers

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, October 25 2010

Just barely more than a week to election day, and the Election Assistance Commission, the tiny body created by the 2002 Help America Vote Act to figure out how to save American elections, is out with a curious press release headlined "Election Officials Eye Tech-Savvy College Students to Serve as Poll Workers":

Election officials across the nation are recruiting college students to increase the numbers and capabilities of the hundreds of thousands of citizens who make up the nation's stable of paid volunteer poll workers.

According to data collected by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, states reported that 10.5 percent of poll workers serving during the 2008 presidential election were 25 years of age or younger. While comparable data is not available from earlier elections, anecdotal evidence suggests election officials are more actively seeking tech-savvy college students to serve as poll workers, particularly to help administer electronic poll books and voting machines.

There seems to be some amount of wishful thinking at work, and a small leap of logic. Voting machines aren't particularly complex technologies. Or, at least, your average poll workers aren't expected, nor allowed, to engage with their more complicated bits. Yep, American elections are often disastrously run. (I consider myself a patient person, but I nearly had a fit on primary day after having to spell my name about 17 times. Seriously, it's five letters, and reasonably phonetic.) But what's often missing is a facility with information management. That's not solely the province of young people, but maybe it seems less age-ist to single them out as being simply more "tech-savvy" than their older counterparts.