Seven students from Dr. Kathy Morrison’s American Democracy and Citizenship (PLS 101) classes at Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) saw democracy in action firsthand when they served as deputy clerks and election judges in area counties during the Nov. 8 general election.
Through this service-learning project, which Morrison has offered to her students during election years since 2006, participants gained a better understanding of the country’s election process through the various tasks they were assigned. These included directing voters to the proper check-in lines at the polls, helping voters fill out change-of-address forms, and reminding voters to have their IDs ready.
“This was a service to our elections officials, but it also was a wonderful opportunity for our students to experience the most essential part of democracy,” Morrison said. “At the end of the day all agreed that it was a positive and uplifting experience.”
Something everyone should do
For Skyla Caldwell, Koshkonong, who worked at a polling location in Oregon County, the experience showed her just how free and fair the voting process was. Caldwell was sworn in to serve as an election judge at her polling location at the last minute when one of the other judges scheduled to work that day could not do so because of a death in the family.
“I was much younger, and I liked how the other election judges helped me learn the job,” Caldwell said. “They had diverse backgrounds – a nuclear mechanic, an anesthesiologist, and a retired IT worker. I learned a lot.”
She said the highlight of her day was helping an elderly couple get through the voting process successfully. “It made my heart happy to assist them,” she said. “I feel like this is something that everyone should do at least once to see how the behind the scenes works. It really works!”
Election officials noted over 50% of registered voters in Caldwell’s precinct cast ballots that day.
Double checking vote tabulations
Cassidy Andrews, West Plains, who worked at a Howell County polling location, said she was impressed with the process to check and double check vote tabulations. At the end of the day, she explained, an audit is run to ensure all ballots were properly accounted for. “I felt like I signed my name a million times,” she laughed.
The students were warned that new photo ID requirements for voting might upset some who wanted to cast ballots, and that proved to be the case for one student who was scared by a voter who yelled at her when he was told he needed to show a photo ID before he could vote. Fortunately, another voter stepped in and calmed the first voter down.
The upset voter was offered a provisional ballot so he could vote and his signature be verified at the county clerk’s office, the student said, but he left without voting.
Younger voters need to participate
Jacob Freiman, Caulfield, who verified addresses and directed voters to their correct polling places in Ozark County, said the experience was great. “Everyone was positive and glad to vote,” he said.
He did notice, however, that very few people his age cast ballots at his poll location. “More young people need to vote,” he said.
All the student workers said they were impressed with how hard the elections staff worked to make sure every vote was counted. If there was a problem with a ballot, it was spit out of the counting machine and marked a spoiled ballot, noted Lucy Hershenson, West Plains, who worked at a Howell County precinct. The voter was then given a fresh ballot so the error could be corrected and the vote counted. “Election officials really bent over backward to assure every vote counted,” she said.
Other students who worked the polls included Bryce Crites and Bridget Walton, both of West Plains, and Parker George, Willow Springs.
County clerk grateful for the help
Howell County Clerk Kelly Waggoner said she was thrilled to have the extra hands available on election day, adding the election judges at the polls where they served were very appreciative of the help they provided.
“They were great. Most of the judges wanted them to come back for future elections,” Waggoner said.
A couple of the students expressed interest in doing so, she added, and that’s important for our democracy. “We need young people to be interested in and take part in the election process because one of these days they will be the ones running the elections,” Waggoner stressed. “They’re learning what the process is, and we want them to take an active part in it.”
Waggoner said she also would like to thank Morrison for reaching out each election year to see if student volunteers are needed. “She’s been an invaluable help to me. She’s great!,” Waggoner said.