• University Pollworkers Project Gears Up

8/20/2012

1,600 to 1,900 people.

That’s how many poll workers Rachael Cobb estimates the City of Boston will need this November to staff its voting locations for the 2012 election.

“Most voters waiting in line don’t think about what a huge undertaking a major election is, or the sheer amount of human capital it requires,” says Cobb, a government professor.

That’s why she created the University Pollworkers Project at Suffolk in 2006. Funded by grants from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the Center for Election Integrity, the project recruits and trains Suffolk students to serve as poll workers.

Suffolk students perform a variety of duties on Election Day. They distribute ballots, check voters in, translate for non-English speakers, assist voters with disabilities, and treat voters with dignity and respect.

“Well-trained poll workers make an election run smoothly,” says Cobb, who teaches a course on Elections and Voting. “Controversies over voter identification requirements, technology glitches, and a big increase in election litigation have brought a lot of scrutiny to elections. Ultimately, it is poll workers who help voters perform their civic duty, have a good experience, and come back for the next election.”

Suffolk has quickly become a valued partner to the Boston Election Department. “With the upcoming presidential election, the spirited race for U.S. Senate [between incumbent Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren], and several interesting ballot questions, the City of Boston anticipates extremely high turnout,” explains Geraldine Cuddyer, chair of the Board of Election Commissioners.

What’s in it for the students? “They get a front-row seat to participate in the democratic process,” enthuses Cobb. “It’s an incredible experiential learning opportunity.”

The project typically recruits 100 to 150 students for a major election. In addition, the project sponsors voter-education events on campus, and created training materials and videos to teach Boston poll workers how to effectively assist voters with disabilities.

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