Front Row - Kathryn Stahr 2nd row (L-R) - Karlie Smith, Jenna Moore, Caitlyn Toombs, Shajuanta Knox 3rd row (L-R) - Eli Armbruster, Jason Hayden, Kadey Grace Wilkey
When Hickman County voters pull up to the elementary school gym on Tuesday, they will be greeted by smiling students, hired for one purpose: to help them get through the voting process safely and efficiently.
The corona virus has forced changes in how America conducts a presidential election. Among those changes are extended voting, no excuse mail in ballots and compression of precincts into voting centers. Clerks around Kentucky began the conversion from a system hundreds of years old to a more modern streamlined election process.
Running an election during a pandemic is a challenge and Hickman County Clerk James "Jimbo" Berry reached out to Hickman County High School Guidance Counselor Amy Boaz for help. Using state money provided to assist in the election, Berry wanted to hire students. He asked for Boaz' help in finding student workers.
Seven Hickman County High School seniors, Caitlyn Toombes, Shajuanta Knox, Jenna Moore, Jason Hayden, Kadey Wilkey,and Karlie Smith wrote essays as their job applications. Boaz sent them to Berry. He was so impressed he hired them all.
Their jobs started immediately. Some students worked at the courthouse during early voting, directing voters to the room set aside to cast ballots, and sanitizing surfaces.
On Halloween, Berry had students come to the elementary gym to set up voting stations. He scheduled a couple of hours to get the job done. In a half an hour, students got the voting carrels assembled, safe spacing markers put down and election workers tables set up. Berry said that the students looked at his arrangement and made suggestions on how to improve it. Pointing to the arrangement, Berry said "It's all them!"
Voters will move around the room from station to station until they finish voting and exit safely.
In years past, three Clinton precincts shared the Hickman County Elementary School gym, spaced at three points of the compass from the front door. Voters went to their precinct to cast their ballot.
This election, there are no precincts. Voters will receive a ballot based upon their residence. There are ten ballot faces because Hickman County has both a city council and a school board election. Every county resident can vote for the school board, but only Clinton city residents can vote for city council candidates.
On Election Day, the student helpers, most of whom are too young to vote in this election, will be greeting voters, directing traffic and opening and sanitizing doors and and flat surfaces. They will be reminding voters to carry in their licenses or identification cards. Clinton precincts won't be the only places the students work. Clerk Berry says he plans to send students out to the Fulgham precinct. The students are not sworn poll workers. The jobs of poll clerks, sheriffs and judges are reserved for adult workers.
Below: Clerk James Berry and Jeana Berry surrounded by student workers, Shajuanta, Eli, Karlie, Kaitlyn, Jenna and Alexis Bartolo with masked adult worker Sidney Spates.
Karlie Smith, who lives in the Fulgham precinct, will be working at her home precinct. One other student is scheduled to work with her. Smith said that she "loves being in the community" and her work as a FFA president this year and a regional sentinel prepared her for her role as an election worker. A sentinel is a greeter and a peacekeeper at FFA meetings.
Eli Armbruster said taking a political science class got him interested in politics. He's planning to major in an agriculture field in college. Armbruster said that "while I am not 18, I would still like to be able to prepare myself for the next upcoming elections and other political situations."
Kady Wilkey is currently taking four college classes as a senior. Some may know her from her job at the pro shop at the Hickman County Country Club. She applied to be an election assistant because she "likes to greet people and make them smile."
In his last year at Hickman County High, Shajuanta Knox is busy with school, basketball, music, video games and friends. His mother encouraged him to apply to be an election assistant. He says he enjoys helping people and he thinks people should carefully consider who should be in office.
Jenna Moore listed multiple offices she's held at school and programs she's taken part in, including the Governor's Scholar Program and the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program. She is interested in working in government and "therefore, this would be a great opportunity to learn the inner workings of our local government."
Caitlyn Toombs received experience with the public working at Acee's. She describes herself as "very outgoing and very social. She plans to bring positive energy to Election Day and help voters "not to be so tense."
"My mom always tells me that if you do everything to the best of your ability, you will be the most successful version of yourself. I try to live by that" Jason Hayden wrote in his application essay. Jason is also a dual credit student and a basketball player. He plans to major in biology with a long range goal of becoming a doctor. He says working the election "will be a neat experience and the money helps."
Hickman County Clerk Berry has already been hearing praise for his youngest workers from early voters. He is pleased that the jobs of greeting and keeping the polling places safely sanitized will be performed by enthusiastic young people.
Funds for the extra expense involved with keeping voters safe were supplied by the State of Kentucky.