Although 16-year-old high school juniors Noa Gutterman and Bryan LaPointe don’t have class on Election Day because their schools are being used as polling places, neither one plans to take the day off.
Gutterman and LaPointe are among more than 100 local high school students who are too young to vote but are participating by working at the polls or volunteering for a campaign on Tuesday.
LaPointe will work at the polls as an election inspector and Gutterman will be canvassing for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s campaign as a “Barackstar” — the campaign’s nickname for volunteers under the age of 18.
Gutterman said she is frustrated that she can’t vote in this election, but decided that volunteering was the next best thing.
“I don’t understand why teenagers are not allowed to vote,” she said. “So instead of sitting around and complaining about why I can’t vote, I would rather help to inform people about their political figures and who they should be voting for.”
“I’m excited to work and have the election happen,” LaPointe said, adding that he’s “anxious about it because they say the voter turnout is going to be huge.”
Obama spokesman Brad Carroll said the campaign’s young volunteers have played a big part for the campaign in the state.
“Barackstar groups across the state have played a crucial role in reaching out to their fellow students, registering them to vote and talking about the change that Barack Obama will bring to Michigan,” he said.
About 110 Pioneer High School students will work the polls in addition to two groups of roughly 25 students from Greenhills School and Huron High School, said Claire Dahl, a history teacher at Pioneer. Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry said students from Community High School will also work at the polls.
“This is a presidential election that every kid is dying to be involved with,” Dahl said.
As election inspectors, the high school students will have the same duties as other poll workers, she said. The job entails getting to the polls by 6 a.m. Tuesday, opening the polls at 7 a.m., processing voters and ballots and setting up and tearing down equipment.
In all, the students will work an 16-hour day and receive eight dollars an hour.
“Most of our seniors say they enjoy having them there,” said Beaudry, referring to the city’s senior citizen poll workers and how they view the high schoolers. “Because they’re younger, they have the energy and the long day doesn’t wear on them.”
Ann Arbor has been recruiting 16- and 17-year-olds to work the polls since the 2000 presidential election, Beaudry said, mostly through the city’s partnership with Pioneer High School and Dahl.
By Dahl’s estimate, the number of election inspectors from Pioneer High School doubled in 2004 and then again this year.
“I think part of it is word of mouth,” Dahl said.
Because of the high number of participants this year, Dahl said she screened the applications to get more reliable students.
Some prospective poll workers found campaigning more appealing.
Beaudry said a handful of high schoolers were accepted to work the polls but dropped out to help with the campaigns.
“We do lose some people if they’re more into the political partisan side,” she said. “They don’t necessarily want to work the polls — they’re more into the campaigning.”
For Gutterman, an Obama intern, canvassing neighborhoods on Election Day will be the culmination of more than a year of volunteering for the campaign.
“I thought, why not get involved, why not help,” she said. “It’s not enough to just believe in something.”