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They're too young to vote, but these civic-minded high schoolers are helping at polling sites

election 6.jpg
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
John Andreano, a student at Athena High School, works as a pollworker at the American Legion Post 468 in Greece during the last day of voting Tuesday.  Andreano was given permission to take the day off from school to work on Election Day.

A group of high school students is helping out at voting sites on Election Day.

Even though he’s too young to vote, 17-year-old Joseph Andreano took time Tuesday to hand ballots to voters as a pollworker at the polling site in the American Legion Greece Post 468.

He and his twin brother, John, both students at Greece Athena High School took an excused absence to witness an essential part of U.S. democracy as people voted in the midterm elections about 10 minutes from their classrooms.

“Politics are an intimidating thing for anyone. But ... as an employee, you're bipartisan. You don't even talk politics to any of these people, you're just talking as friends. You can make friends here.” Joseph said.

The brothers are two of about 20 high school students participating in the Monroe County Board of Elections’ civic youth program called Student LEAP: Leaders Engaging As Pollworkers.

John Andreano explained that his job was to help people understand what they need to do to cast a successful ballot.

“If they have any questions,” John said, “we always have a Democrat and Republican to help them out at the same time so everything's fair and equal.”

They learned about the program after Luke Rydelek, a recruiter for election inspectors with the county Board of Elections, gave a presentation at their school.

election 5.jpg
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
Joseph Andreano holds a ballot for World War II veteran Eberhard Thieme at the American Legion Post 468 in Greece during the last day of voting Tuesday.  

Rydelek said it’s important to teach young people that democracy is “not worldwide.”

“It's a treasure, and something that we have to ourselves uphold,” Rydelek said. “And the way we do that is getting involved beyond just voting."

It’s rewarding, Joseph said, and not just for the approximately $230 in wages for the day, or the extra credit for school. It’s giving him greater perspective, he said.

"It's kind of like a taste of life,” he said.

However, Joseph said he noticed an “extreme lack” of young voters showing up.

“I was hoping I would see more young people, but I've only seen a couple so far,” he said.

In the 2018 midterm election, about 38% of registered voters in the youngest age group (18-24 years old) in Monroe County voted. In the 2020 presidential election, nearly 66% of eligible voters in that age range cast a ballot.

Notably, the number of registered voters in the county aged 18 to 24 jumped from about 36,000 voters in 2018 to more than 42,600 voters in 2020. Still, the percentage of registered voters in this age range who engaged in the 2021 local elections dropped significantly from more prominent election cycles to 7.2%.

Joseph said he hopes more young people make voting a habit for every election.

“I've heard people my age say that they're not going to vote and when I ask them why, they just said, ‘I don't know. I just don't want to,’” he said. “So, I think more young people should definitely start getting involved with this.”

Includes reporting from WXXI's Max Schulte.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.