These Delco teens aren’t old enough to vote, but they run your local polling station

If you’re voting in Tuesday’s municipal elections in Delaware County, the friendly faces checking you in at the polling station may not be old enough to vote themselves.

An election worker holds I Voted stickers

Delco teens will be among the poll workers handing out "I voted" stickers this year. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The typical poll worker is a middle-income white woman aged 50 to 64, according to advocacy group Democracy Fund.

But one Delco political organizer wants to see a new demographic giving out “I Voted” stickers: high schoolers.

Teresa Touey has been knocking on doors in the Interboro School District since 2013, asking students to help run local elections. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and  scared scores of older election day volunteers away from work, Touey redoubled her efforts to recruit the next generation of poll workers.

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Touey started roping Gen Z into the political process with hopes they’d engage at higher levels in the future.

“We’re graying. We’re not recruiting 15-40 year olds to run for office. So I thought, ‘I want to do something about that,’’’ Touey said.

She trains younger students to help give directions and hand out literature, while 17-and-ups can serve as clerks or machine operators. This works out well because teens are at an advantage when it comes to navigating the digital software increasingly being deployed at polling stations.

But how do you convince teenagers to wake up before 6 a.m. for a full day of giving directions and prepping ballots?

Money is a good place to start, Touey said.

The Delaware County Bureau of Elections budgets $100 for training and $140 per day for election workers — a substantial sum for a high schooler saving up for college.

“It’s not frivolous money. It’s bread and butter. And bread and butter is expensive today,” Touey said.

Clarification: One must be 17 or older to work as a paid poll station employee. Those under 18 must meet additional requirements, including written permission from a parent and school principal.

Some recruits come for the cash, but they stay for the cause. Interboro High School student Ishani Harris is one of them. She gained a newfound appreciation for local politics when she started working the polls in 2020.

“Seeing what issues are on the ballot, what issues are at stake… [it] planted a seed in my heart,” 21-year-old Harris said.

Of the almost 30 students who have joined Touey’s team over the years, nine of them are returning to help run Philadelphia’s municipal elections on Tuesday.

Harris said once she graduates from college, she wants to leverage her medical background and passion for civic engagement to lobby for womens’ health equity.

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Until then, she has vowed to continue working the polls whenever she can.

“If you want change, [you have] to vote. As corny as it sounds, it’s true,” Harris said.

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