Dallas County

Record-Breaking Number of Students Working Dallas County Polls This Year

Around 1,800 high school students are answering the call for civic duty to help Election Day run a little smoother.

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Since 2012, the student election workers program has helped Dallas County make elections throughout the year run a little smoother.

But this is not your average year. Those students are needed now more than ever and those students answered the call in a big way.

The countdown is on and big preps are underway for an opportunity of a lifetime for nearly so many Dallas County teens.

The deadline has passed for students to apply. Dallas County Elections Department was looking for at least 1,000 students to help out this Election Day.

They ended up getting 1,800, the most ever in the program's history.

"I'm glad they're excited for this election. And I hope they continue this momentum throughout other elections," said Laura Varela, who oversees both the student program and the bilingual program for the county’s election office.

Sydney Watson, 17, actually played a vital role in recruiting those students. She launched an impressive social media campaign and even went as far as reaching out to a cartoonist for The New Yorker Magazine to make special graphics for her outreach.

“I think as a student, it’s easy to feel like you can’t make an impact and like you’re really small in the community," she said. "But through this, you really make tangible change and you can really see yourself making a difference in the community."

Watson said students are critical because many poll workers are elderly, which means they fall into the at-risk category for COVID-19. Election officials said due to the pandemic, they've had a lot of workers drop off due to underlying conditions and other health concerns.

"Frequent FaceTime calls with grandparents throughout the pandemic really instilled in me that this was a big deal to older people," said Watson. "And after having worked in the March election, I knew how many poll workers in Dallas and around the U.S. are older. So I wanted to do something to kind of ease the burden on older poll workers."

Students are filling that gap by working across all 463 polling locations in Dallas County on what's expected to be a chaotic Election Day.

“This is a huge election year. We could see this coming up for a long time now. Kind of at the beginning of this, the wheels started turning and I was like, what is this going to look like? In the past, we’ve had such a great need for poll workers and that was really threatened this time," Watson said.

Right now, students are being trained for the big day, both virtually and in person. They're learning election laws and procedures, how to handle the equipment, and protocols for curbside voting.

"It makes a world of difference having the students there with the technology and assiting voters wherever possible that they can," Varela said.

Students can't work early voting right now because of their classes but Nov. 3 is a student-teacher holiday for Dallas ISD.

The teens will be working long hours, from 6 a.m. to nighttime after the polls close.

The perk: they get paid a sweet $16 per hour to be a part of a historical election year.

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