Johnstown students allowed to do election work

JOHNSTOWN – Most Johnstown High School students will be too young to vote in spring’s annual election, but that may not prevent some of them from having an active part in the formal process.

The Board of Education on Thursday supported a suggestion by District Clerk Larraina Carpenter to replace half of the paid election inspectors and poll clerks at Johnstown High School with qualified students for the May 21 school election.

“I think it’s a good idea to engage the students,” said Board of Education President Paul VanDenburgh.

The district could enlist the help of students in Sean Russo’s Participation in Government Studies classes, whose curriculum includes community service and government observation, Carpenter said. She said students could work in shifts.

Election inspectors typically earn $100 a day, but Carpenter said she was hopeful students could volunteer for class credit or perhaps a pizza party in exchange for helping.

The state in 2010 narrowly passed the changes to state labor and election laws, allowing 17-year-old students to serve as inspectors and clerks, after schools statewide had difficulty finding election workers.

The law reads: “This legislation would help reduce such widespread shortages while providing an excellent hands-on learning experience of democracy in action for our state’s young adults.”

The law requires students to be at least 17 and have permission of their parents or guardians. Students who participate and miss class are not considered absent, the law says.

The bill sailed through the state Assembly, 132-5, but faced tougher opposition in the state Senate, where Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, was among the opponents in a 32-29 vote.

Farley said Friday he has “no quarrels” with the law, but he voted against it, like other Republicans, out of protest for how the Democrat-led Senate was conducting business at that time.

“It was like crazy time and they were ramming things through without following procedure,” Farley said today.

State election law requires three inspectors at each polling site, Carpenter said. Johnstown typically has employed three at a location in Ephratah and six at Johnstown High School, where two machines are used.

“It was good last year to have extra hands,” VanDenburgh said. In 2012, the district enlisted its inspectors to hand-count write-in votes for a Board of Education seat when only two candidates ran for three seats.

Voters this year also will elect three board members, as well as vote on a budget.

Carpenter noted that the Ephratah polling site only sees about 35 voters annually. The polling site could be closed, requiring voters to travel to the high school, but reopening the site later would require a districtwide referendum, she said.

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