Teenagers are learning at the polls
Future Vote Initiative enlists 1,500 student aides on Election Day
Chris Rossi/The Gazette
Some of the most dedicated volunteers working at county polling places Tuesday weren't old enough to vote.
The 1,500 student election aides — all Montgomery County youths in grades 6-12 — answered voters' questions, kept the lines organized and doled out sample ballots, but helping out at the polls is only one part of the Future Vote Initiative's mission.
"It's about empowerment, education and also enlightenment," said the program's organizer, Gilberto Zelaya, community outreach liaison for the county Board of Elections. "… By the time they come of age, they're so well served they know how to protect their constitutional rights."
Launched as a pilot program with about 500 students in 2004, the initiative expanded to 1,000 students in 2006, Zelaya said. There was a waiting list both years, he said, and 400 students were on the stand-by list for Tuesday's election as of last week.
The student election judges received Student Service Learning hours for school and worked in four-hour shifts. Training includes Election Day rules and procedures, U.S. history and the importance of voting, and parents are encouraged to participate and trained to register voters. The students joined 3,500 election judges and 47 precinct greeters at the polls.
"It's fun to see the inside of the voting process and how it works," said student election aide Kathryn Kearney, 13, of Clarksburg. "… You think it's long, and the getting up early is hard, but once you get there it goes quick."
For the Kearneys, helping get out the vote has become a family affair. Kathryn's 18-year-old brother Jude, a freshman at Hood College in Frederick, joined the program three years ago and was an election judge Tuesday. Kathryn and her mother Lorraine Kearney have registered voters together.
"It's pulled us in and gotten us involved in the electoral process in ways we never had before," Kathryn said.
The Mariani family of Darnestown also worked together on Election Day. Anna, 14, became a student election aide two years ago, and Nick, 12, joined in the spring. They worked at Jones Lane Elementary School in North Potomac with their father Tom Mariani. Their mother Tassey Mariani was a greeter at Poolesville Elementary School. The family has also done voter registration drives.
At Jones Lane, Anna and Nick passed out "I voted" stickers and helped voters after they cast their ballots.
"It's a big help. They make sure those voting cards don't walk out the door," Tom Mariani said Tuesday, where a steady stream of voters came in throughout the morning.
Working at the polls on Tuesday was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Anna Mariani said.
"This is a pretty historical election because you have either a woman vice president or an African-American president," Anna, who is interested in the economy and women's rights, said last week.
For the student election aides, working at the election was a chance to be a part of history without casting a ballot.
"More young people today are getting more involved. We're just as informed as adults," Kathryn Kearney said. "I know I wish I could vote."