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University Students Supplement Poll-working Seniors

By Laurel Lundstrom
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2004

COLLEGE PARK - With the presidential election less than a week away, some University of Maryland students are readying to replace retirees as poll workers in Prince George's County and to help make voting more efficient.

Students will be a part of the "Help America Vote College Program," part of a more sweeping 2002 election reform bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.

The initiative aims to recruit more young people to administer the election, replace older poll workers with their younger and more technologically savvy counterparts, and increase young voter turnout, said Hoyer.

After the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, Hoyer's legislation is only on a short list of national initiatives ever made to get people to vote, said DeForest Soaries, U.S. Election Assistance Commission chairman, who joined Hoyer and others at the University of Maryland on Wednesday.

"It is a way to see young people involved in a communitarian process, electing the leader of the free world," said Hoyer. "When I set out to enact comprehensive election reform shortly after the 2000 election, I determined that more needed to be done to ignite the civic spirit in young Americans."

Wages and training for the 100 youth involved is paid for through a $25,000 federal grant from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to the university's Center for American Politics and Citizenship, one of 15 awarded to colleges and universities nationwide.

The University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore are the only schools in the state participating. Students were recruited by e-mail from various groups.

When Daniel Mullen, a Maryland freshman, received an e-mail from the College Democrats about working the polls he said he thought it was a good way to earn $125.

"I did it for the pay, and because I was interested in the voting process," said Mullen.

Although Mullen received his message from the Democrats, the effort is meant to be non-partisan.

"It is important for people to be involved in what affects them most . . . and that is the government," said Denise McCarthy, another volunteer and freshman.

McCarthy said she would be very surprised if there is not a high voter turnout from college students in Maryland. "We are a force, we can sway this election."

There are 4,000 more young poll workers nationwide as a result of the initiative. But Hoyer said he hopes involvement multiplies in the coming years.

"This nation is on the verge of a crisis in civic engagement at a moment in history when it can least afford one," said Hoyer. This project, he said, "is an attempt to reverse the decline and address the civic engagement crisis."

Copyright 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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