Getting involved in the voting process offers a unique experience in civic engagement (Illustration by Jordon Cheung / For The Times)


Opinion: I was a student election worker, and you can be too

Students across the state of California can sign up to become Student Election Workers. Here's how I did it, and how you can too.
<a href="" target="_self">Hugo Chiasson</a>

Hugo Chiasson

October 9, 2023

I woke up on a crisp November morning, around 5 AM. It was Tuesday the 8th, 2022, and I was dressing to go to work as an election worker. I was electrified. I had already worked the polls two days before Election Day proper, but before that, there were several steps that I had to complete in order to serve at all.

Students in Los Angeles County looking to participate in the process of being an election worker need look no further than the County Clerk/Registrar Recorder’s office website, where there are a number of resources. The requirements, application form, and a handful of training videos populate the page. It’s easy to get engaged. You only have to get your parent’s and school’s consent and meet a few other requirements: be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident over the age of 16, who is currently attending high school with a GPA greater than 2.5. 

But those requirements aren’t necessarily the only barriers to someone serving as an election worker, so I want to dispel any worries that may be brewing in your mind. For starters, though you do serve for three full days, it isn’t as much time as it seems. Your 37 total hours are spread across a weekend and the following Tuesday, and aside from that, there’s nothing to do between the days you serve. Plus, not every hour you do serve is always occupied, which I’ll get to later.

There’s also no requirement to be politically engaged: all you have to be is interested in the process. I found that often those that serve aren’t, as a matter of course, engaged in politics. They have their own opinions, their own ideals, but they’re not necessarily serving because of them. For one thing, you’re not allowed to campaign inside the vote center, though you can talk about the ideas you believe in. There are fascinating conversations to be had but there isn’t an expectation to come out staunchly in favor of any one candidate or party.

I was worried that someone might come into the polling place and decry my work as “rigging the election” and threaten my safety or those working with me. What I found is that the people who came in to vote were civil and calm. There’s a great deal of respect for the process, and for any moments of concern, there are systems in place to help manage any possible tensions; there’s plenty of support for any worries you may have on that front.

A lot of my friends often tell me they feel their vote doesn’t matter, that the democratic process isn’t one that is actually supporting them. But I can say in no uncertain terms that if you vote, your vote quite literally does count. At the end of every night, everyone serving with me at the polling place got together and we counted the number of ballots cast. We celebrated the people whose voices we helped get heard.

As a Student Election Worker, you get the opportunity to engage in democracy firsthand (and make a little money along the way), participating in the electoral process in ways that are both enlightening and empowering. By performing the actual work that goes into voting and making our democratic system run, you have a direct hand in helping people take part in representative government. Your support is an integral part of ensuring that the system functions as it should. For some, that will be momentarily enjoyable, for others even fulfilling in a bigger way, but I hope that more people will serve and come out the other side the way I did: irrevocably changed. I was inspired by the opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself. I was a true public servant, and the immense satisfaction and pride I gained from that is unlike anything I had felt before.

According to Dean Logan, the LA County Registrar-Recorder County Clerk, “It takes upwards of 10,000 workers to make each election cycle run smoothly.”

Simply saying that more students should participate would not be enough, so on top of that recommendation I want to share more of the specifics of the process, and how to go about becoming a Student Election Worker.

First, start early. Check in with both your parent or guardian and school to make sure you are eligible. The next election where students can work is March 5, 2024, the Presidential Primary. Currently, the Los Angeles County Student Election Worker Program website states that the application to serve during the Primary will be open by the end of September, so set your calendars to check then. After you apply and get the job, you will be assigned to a polling place so you know where you’ll be working on Election day itself and the weekend before. Share this info with your school administrators and teachers letting them know that you won’t be in class on election day, and your capacity to do homework the weekend prior may be slightly limited.

But before you get to whichever polling place you’ll be serving at, you have to take both an in-person and a virtual training course. This will help you understand how all of the technology and systems work so that you can feel prepared and ready to best help the people you are supporting when they come in to vote. Understanding how the actual voting machines function is crucial, because issues and questions are constantly going to come up. In my experience, voters will accidentally leave their ballots on the machine, or try to take the ballot with them and never confirm their vote. In order to make sure their vote counts and their voice is heard, you need to know how to help each voter so you can make sure that happens.

The training is great, but never be afraid to ask questions once you are actually on the job. You will find people who have served many more times than you sitting on your left and right, checking people in just the same as you are. These people are friendly and, like you, are serving and contributing to the democratic process. You’re a team, helping each other out is a fundamental part of being a poll worker.

As the influx of voters ebbs and flows throughout the day, typically you will have time to do some homework or relax while you serve so I suggest bringing a book or other work along with you. And on breaks and downtime, you can talk and get to know the other people serving with you, many have done this kind of work for years. There’s also a great opportunity to connect with your fellow Student Election Workers, talk about school, your classes, and make a new friend. Even if you go to different schools, you’re designated to a polling place near your home, so you most likely live nearby to one another.

Being a Student Election Worker is an unparalleled opportunity to learn and understand the governmental process alongside democracy. You’ll be a firsthand participant in our democratic, governmental process and also see the internals of a voting machine, understand how the check-in process works, and ensure that every ballot is accounted for. It’s actually quite enthralling. At my polling place, it was always a competition to see who would open and count the ballots from the voting machines at the end of the night.

As I exited the polling place on November 8th, the moon hung low in the sky. I felt an unmistakable sense of accomplishment and a sense of purpose at having helped hundreds of people vote. I was a public servant for the first time in my life. It was a powerful feeling, and one I hope you can experience, too. Being a Student Election Worker is a great chance for you to have an impact and to help the electoral process run smoothly. So, get involved and apply to be a Student Election Worker. You won’t regret it.