The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is helping to foster a successful election Nov. 8, supplying a class of trained student poll workers.
More than two dozen students from the Quest III course Essentials of Civic Engagement were trained in class by Oshkosh City Clerk Jessi Balcom and two representatives of her office. Balcom said the students will serve as paid election inspectors, helping to staff the 15 polling locations in the city.
With elections being such an important part of government—how leaders and representatives are chosen in the political process—Balcom is grateful for those who provide their time and talent to make sure those who are eligible and willing to vote will have the opportunity on Election Day.
Franklin native, Kesha Patel, a sophomore majoring in biomedical science, said she will be helping people get through Election Day processes and is assigned to the Oshkosh Public Library polling site.
“I am excited to work as a poll worker but also very nervous,” she said. “I am excited because this is something that I have never done before. I have voted but it will be interesting to work behind the scenes to see what goes on in the background.”
Patel has a few nerves, when she considers the job involves people’s ballots and votes.
“Our class focuses on lots of aspects of civic engagement and how we as individuals can apply those practices in everyday life,” said Sam Ramaeker, a sophomore student from Neenah who is considering majoring in secondary education with a history emphasis or special education. “I think this class is very helpful and contains important information that every U.S. citizen should know.”
Kaya Boettcher, a sophomore from Neenah majoring in ecological and organismal biology, said she will be working at Sunnyview Christian Church.
Some of the training students’ received involved getting voter information, including legal name and place of residence. They were trained how to register people on the day of the election, providing them with the correct ballot based on their address, and even how to find voters’ correct polling place.
“I’m not a huge fan of politics in general because I do not really identify with either party, but I do think this class is beneficial,” she said. “I have already learned that although I do not agree with any one party, engagement in the community is still extremely important.”
Memorable experiences will undoubtedly come during a full day at the polls with hotly contested state races and predicted strong voter turnout.
“This work has a value for our students in that it helps them understand our democratic process and their ability to participate in it,” said James Krueger, political science department chair who is teaching the class. “It also provides a substantial benefit to other students who might be more interested in voting if they see their peers staffing the polls and offering to help them register to vote.”
Krueger said the 26 student workers will help ensure polling places throughout Oshkosh are better staffed and should help avoid formation of long wait lines at the polls.
Students who start their college career at UW Oshkosh take Quest I and Quest II in their first year as well as a public speaking class and a writing class, as part of the University Studies Program.
In Quest III courses students extend their classroom into a community setting, working with a local nonprofit, community group or campus partner. The experience allows students to apply their classroom learning to a real-world practical experience and return to the classroom with a higher proficiency.
History of support
UWO has had a relationship with the city clerk’s office through the American Democracy Project (ADP) since at least 2010.
Krueger said Mike Lueder, UWO’s Center for Civic and Community Engagement director, approached the clerk’s office in August after they discussed scaling up the experience from ADP interns to an entire Quest III class.
The Quest III course is optional but counts for the civic engagement minor through the political science department. Students were given the option to help with voter registration, event planning, working with county political parties or poll working for their service learning in class. Nearly 30 of the 50 chose poll working.
“Having students from UW Oshkosh who are investing in their education and community through the political science department, working at the election is wonderful,” Balcom said. “I hope they will share their experience with friends and family and encourage others to sign up to work at the polls and to vote.”