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Dallas student uses Instagram to recruit fellow high schoolers as election clerks

Since 2012, high school students over 16 have been eligible to work at the polls in Dallas County.
Credit: Byron Harris

No matter where you vote, you can almost always depend on one thing at your polling place. The workers manning the booths are likely be dedicated senior citizens, eager to serve the democratic process. The same age group most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Sydney Watson, 17, wants to help change that demographic. She’s launched a campaign to recruit high school students as election clerks. 

Since 2012, high school students over 16 have been eligible to work at the polls in Dallas County. They are excused from class on Election Day and do all the things older election clerks do.

Watson has clerked at previous elections, and cooked up a plan to increase student participation sitting around the kitchen table with her parents.

“It was initially an idea to kind of ease the burden on older co-workers, and in the process to get more students involved,” Watson said. “And I think it’s really good for students because it’s an opportunity for them to learn about the democratic process and how all of this works.”

The result is Students Step Up, an Instagram page which tells students how easy it is to apply to be an election clerk. 

Watson contacted a cartoonist at The New Yorker magazine, yes that New Yorker, and convinced him to create drawings for the site. Students are shown holding signs that say “Dallas Needs Us!” “This Election Take Action!” and “Help Make Lines Shorter in Your Neighborhood!”

Laura Varela at the Dallas County Elections Department says that as of mid September, 647 students have applied for the program. The application can be filled out online

For most elections, students must receive permission from their principal to be excused from school on election day, but this Nov. 3 is a student/teacher holiday for Dallas ISD, so no special permission is required. 

Students have to be 16 years old on Election Day, and if 18, must be registered to vote. They must be a U.S. citizen and fluent in English.

Sept. 28 is the last day for students to register.

Come the first Tuesday in November, Watson hopes 900 students will be scattered around polls in Dallas County. 

“We’re there super early in the morning, setting up equipment. And then throughout the day, we’re checking voters’ identification and helping them through the process," she said. "We work really hard. I think students work really hard. And so they (my co-workers) see that we have the potential to do a good job and we contribute.”

The job pays $16 an hour -- more than McDonald’s.