The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

    Opinion: high school students should serve as poll workers

    With countless news stories headlining in and outside of the United States, global political affairs can overshadow local elections. High school students must focus on local elections by serving as poll workers. 

    My experience serving as a poll worker in San Francisco’s most recent primary election on March 5, 2024, benefited me by strengthening my knowledge about local elections and revealing the weight of politics on our community. 

    There are certain requirements one must meet to serve as a poll worker in California. According to the California Secretary of State, the job is open to all U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents who are ages 16 and older. High school students are granted the opportunity to work if they maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average (GPA) and have permission from a legal guardian. 

    After filling out the poll worker application form, applicants are required to watch a two-hour poll worker training course video two weeks before the election. They also receive a booklet in the mail containing all training information in detail. 

    On March 5, 391 high school students served at polling places in San Francisco, which is less than half of the typical participation from high schoolers in the city. Negeen Etemad, the division assistant manager at the Department of Elections, stated that the government generally recruits around 800 high schoolers, making up about one-third of the 2,400 total poll workers. 

    This year’s lack of high school engagement in San Francisco elections makes it even more important to support your district by serving in upcoming local elections. 

    “On the student side, [the job] teaches about civic engagement, and we partner with public and private teachers in a big way to encourage students to sign up,” said Etemad in an interview with The Urban Legend. “From the community perspective, there is something very energizing for the elderly poll workers to see high schoolers serving with them. We get so much positive feedback from older people about high school students being really nice, and that connection across ages is vital.” 

     Lowell High School Student Ian Woodbury ‘24, who I met serving at the precinct on March 5 said in an interview with The Urban Legend, “I have served at a polling place before, and I wanted to do it again because I found my first election to be really fulfilling. I realized that I could use the stipend of $225 and it’s also pretty much a free day off of school if it happens during the school year.” 

    Talula Rogers ‘26 reflected on her experiences with polling places before serving as a poll worker. “I’ve only gone with my parents to vote, and at the time, I didn’t have any understanding of it. [After], I spent a significant amount of time thinking about why the polls worked the way they did, and I became very interested in it.”

    As someone who served as a poll worker in the primary election, I rarely spent my time talking about politics with others. Yet, with the poll worker training standards relaying the message of bipartisan support, there is little to do with opposing opinions and a lot to do with the process of voting ballots. 

    Serving in an election lends insights into the complicated operation of polling places. 

    “I gained a lot more respect for the [San Francisco] government and recognized the work it takes to run a fair election,” said Rogers. “It takes people to design the website for the

    application, people making videos for the
    training course and the people volunteering their garages and school gyms for the election to take place.” 

    On election day, poll workers show up to their precinct at six in the morning, ready to step into their officially assigned role. I was assigned to clerk duty, which is the standard job for poll workers. During the election, I checked the roster of registered voters and gave people stickers after scanning their ballots. These experiences allowed me to  understand the voting process and positively serve the community. 

    This past primary election saw just a 43% voter turnout — 18% lower than in March 2020. Serving as a poll worker not only helps students understand the process of voting but motivates them to inspire local communities in taking action for future elections. 

    “It was still beneficial to observe the voting process, [even] from the perspective of not being able to vote,” said Rogers. “It gave me more confidence and knowledge [about] what goes into the system and the different types of ballots.”

    About the Contributor
    Sophie Mainelli
    Sophie Mainelli, Managing Editor, Print