Student Outreach Is Key to Engaged Citizenry

Young woman in line to vote

by Sylvia Wood

With just under two weeks left until the May 7 election, county clerks across Texas are checking their rosters to make sure they have enough election workers to ensure a smooth voting experience and to comply with a long list of laws, rules, and procedures around the act of casting and counting ballots.

This work isn’t easy, but it could be made easier if more students, educators, and administrators knew that Texas allows for youths aged 16 and older to serve as student election workers. The deadline to apply has passed for this election, but it’s not too late to start preparing for November or future elections.

The bill that authorized student election clerks passed over 10 years ago, yet there’s still an opportunity to raise awareness and encourage more young people to take part.

“I think there’s plenty of education research to show experiential learning is very effective,” said Renée D. Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. “It’s not only important to learn about democracy and government but to get hands-on experience to build lifelong habits.”

High school principals are already required by the state to offer students the chance to register to vote if they are 18 or will turn 18 that school year. And the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requires instruction on voting in every grade level, from elementary through high school, with increasing complexity.

Amid those conversations, getting teens up to speed on the opportunities to serve as student election clerks shouldn’t be a stretch.

“I do think the state could do a better job of outreach to schools to encourage this activity,” Cross said. “There should be some money set aside for voter education in high school, if not before.”

The state is already doing a good job of making information about the student election clerk program available, including links to the application. And the Texas Education Agency has determined that students who work as clerks during early voting or on election day will qualify for an excused absence, up to two days per year.

For those hired to work, the benefits are many. Student election clerks are paid for their service, with some counties paying up to $17 an hour. In addition, by working as student election clerks, students get hands-on experience with democracy at the grassroots level.

“This gives them a comfort level with the whole election process, and that to me is critical because we all learn by doing,” said Nancy Kral, a longtime volunteer with the League of Women Voters in Houston and political science professor at Lone Star College.

Having a clear understanding of how the voting process works can also help pave the way to establishing a regular practice of voting when the student turns 18 and becomes eligible. “It can be a very intimidating process for people of all ages, the first time you vote,” Kral said.

As educators try to instill a knowledge and appreciation for democracy among their students, consider letting your high schoolers know about the benefits of serving as student election clerks, from hands-on experience to extra pocket money. “It’s definitely a win-win,” Cross said.

This article was originally published on April 26, 2022.