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January 10, 2008

Teenagers and Judges

Norman M. Covert

The “Help Wanted” Sign is on display at the Elections Board of Frederick County, which has put out a general plea to hire 17-year-olds as election judges for the February 12th Primary Election and the November 4 Presidential Election. Adults are welcome, too, but the teens would certainly be a plus, according to election officials.

Prospective election judges must apply within the next two weeks, according to Elections Director Stuart Harvey.

The latest rules give the local board the ability to appoint a minor at least 17 years of age, if the minor meets all the other qualifications to be a registered voter in Frederick County. At last count there was a shortage of chief judges, check-in judges, voting unit judges and provisional ballot judges.

The revised voting regulations also now allow 17-year-olds to vote in the February 12 primary if they will be 18 by the November 4 election. Registration deadline for the Primary Election is January 22, just 12 days away. If you want an absentee ballot you must apply by February 5 and it must be in the hands of the election board by February 12, or bear a postmark before that date.

The notion of giving young people responsibility is not new. Newspaper publishers learned a long time ago that their business would flourish with young people acting as independent contractors to sell and distribute their daily editions on the street and door-to-door.

These days, adults have taken over much of this work. They use cars to cover greater distances and shorten the time needed to deliver the daily news. Many of these editions litter the sidewalk; I’m fortunate that my delivery person has a good batting average hitting the porch.

Many of us began our careers at 12 years of age. We waited on a frigid street corner each morning at 4:30 for a truck to toss us a wired-up stack of newspapers. We would fold them, stack them in a delivery bag, hop on our bikes and toss them on porches over a distance of several blocks. They had to be delivered early!

At the end of the week an invoice came with the papers. We would go door-to-door to collect the subscription money ($.30, daily and Sunday), sometimes a tip, and then deliver the cash to the route manager and hope we would yield enough coins to spend some and save some. It was a tight margin, but we learned supply and demand, most of all responsibility.

There is little doubt that a group of responsible 17-year-olds can serve as election judges every bit as well as we old timers. If nothing else, they will pick up on how to use the electronic voting books to check in voters and issue cards for the electronic machines.

After some wrangling, the Maryland State Board of Elections reached a unanimous agreement at its December 20, 2007, meeting to allow 17-year-olds to register and vote in the primary election provided they will be 18 by the next general election.

Republican and Democrat party leaders urged Attorney General Douglas Gansler to approve the notion of underage voters taking part in primaries. After all, they said, it is the parties’ election and if teens will be eligible to vote in November, they should have the opportunity to pick which names will be on the ballot!

Frederick County Public School Superintendent Linda Burgee has been urged to spread the word to local high schools about the need for election judges. This becomes an important civics lesson for these (typically) high school seniors, who will be taking part in the voting process for the first time.

Each of the political parties was disappointed in the turnout of teen voters in the last presidential and general elections, but they just followed the lead of their adult mentors, a population which itself fails to generate significant numbers of voters nationwide.

Getting young people involved at 17 can only help us turn out the vote in future elections.

TO APPLY, email or call Deputy Director Noreen L. Schultz at 301-600-VOTE.

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