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November 10, 2013

Parke County teenagers find entry into election process

TERRE HAUTE — Select teenagers in Parke County will soon be eligible for a new civic involvement project that can put them in charge of election day polling places.

The Parke County Election Board last week approved a measure allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to serve as precinct election officers in the 11 polling sites for future elections. It is a project that has been allowed by state law for several years but has seldom been used at the local level.

However, Vermillion County Republican Party Chairman Tim Yocum told the Parke County officials that the program has worked well for several years in his home county, and he hopes it will spread throughout the Eighth Congressional District.

“This is about getting young people involved and getting more poll workers,” Yocum explained to Election Board members Bill Ferguson, Randy Wright, County Clerk Diana Hazlett, and to voter registration clerk Sheena Ferguson and other county officials during a Thursday morning meeting.

The program is not about handing out candidate literature at the polls on election day. It is a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. job inside the polling places for which eligible teens will be trained and paid the same as other poll workers.

“This whole program is just to get young people involved in the political process,” Yocum said.

The Vermillion County program started out in 2006 with two students who were recommended by their schools as reliable people who will follow through on their commitment to be trained and do the 12-hour job. Since then, the program has grown to include several teens, Yocum said, and during the 2012 election, a teen was stationed at each polling place in Vermillion County.

The resolution approved Thursday by the Parke County board requires the students to be at least age 16 but younger than age 18, be a U.S. citizen and a resident of Park County, have a grade-point average of not less than 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, have the written approval of the school principal and parent or guardian, and attend poll worker training.

Clerk Hazlett said it has been hard in the past to get enough poll workers trained and in place for election days. But she is hopeful that the young people will feel more comfortable using the electronic voting machines, and suspects they will be good at instructing voters on how to use the touch-screen machines.

Election board chairman Ferguson said the youth project has been discussed for years, but hasn’t gotten off the ground in Parke County until now.

“It’s something we need more involvement with, and I guess if we get them [youth] involved in the election process in school, it will carry with them through their lives,” Ferguson said.

Yocum also noted that a big effort is under way in Vermillion County to get all students registered to vote when they are eligible. North Vermillion High School is almost there, he said, and South Vermillion is also working on the project. Youths who will turn 18 by the November general election are eligible to register to vote at age 17 for the spring primary prior to their 18th birthday.

However, once a young person is registered to vote, they are not eligible to participate in the youth poll worker program.

Yocum said he is also working with Vermillion County merchants to come up with some kind of rewards card that can be presented to high school students who register to vote.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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