Sixteen-year-old Orion Wilson’s first paid job won’t involve asking customers if they want ketchup with their fries or a paper or plastic bag.
As a “curbside greeter,” Orion will be transferring ballots from voters’ hands to a drive-up collection box on Election Day and keeping an expected steady flow of cars moving smoothly.
The work sounds interesting and fun to the Doherty High School junior, one of 52 students whom the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office has hired to be student election judges for the Nov. 6 midterm races.
“It will be a cool experience to learn about voting and policy,” Orion said.
He’ll miss school for the day, as his shift runs 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. But he thinks it will be a worthwhile learning opportunity.
“I find politics and government interesting in general, and how it all works,” Orion said.
Rob Duensing, advanced placement government teacher at Doherty High in Colorado Springs School District 11, has been supplying student election judges since 2004.
“I wish I could have done this when I was in high school,” he said. “It makes elections less intimidating to get out there and vote, and demystifies the process.”
Student judges are among the 15 types of 400 judges the Clerk and Recorder’s Office has hired to orchestrate this year’s event, said Angie Leath, director of elections.
In addition to Doherty, students from Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument’s District 38, Mesa Ridge High in Widefield School District 3 and Pine Creek High in Academy School District 20 will be student judges.
Students are paid $10.50 an hour for their time, including training. They’re divided into three categories of workers: greeter judges, ballot judges and curbside judges.
“Some people think the election is put on and torn down in one day,” Leath said. “Having student judges helps them understand the importance of the election process and voting.”
It also gives them “a good behind-the-scenes look” at how all the components come together, she said.
Doherty junior Mikayla Cox, another student election judge assisting voters at a voter service and polling center, will check for acceptable voter identification and track wait times.
“It seemed like a great opportunity,” she said.
Doherty students also hold voter registration drives. Duensing said 75 percent of juniors and seniors at the school are registered to vote. Although students must be 18 years old to vote in state and federal elections, Colorado allows teens ages 16 and 17 to pre-register. Teens who pre-register are automatically added to the voter rolls when they turn 18.
Countywide, 5,070 teens have pre-registered, Leath said.
Orion said he plans on being an active voter when he reaches voting age in two years.
“Most people I know have registered at school,” he said.
Taking a civics-focused class in middle school and/or high school helps develop political engagement, a new survey from The Education Week Research Center shows.
The online poll to gauge political views of youths, which was conducted last month and released Monday, found students who have never taken a civics class are less likely to vote. Nearly one in three of the 1,339 respondents said they had never taken a standalone civics class.
Other key takeaways from the survey of primarily first-time 18- and 19-year-old voters:
• Most respondents claim they will vote in November. Whether they will remains to be seen. Just 20 percent of voters ages 18-29 voted in the 2014 midterm elections when the overall turnout was 42 percent .
• Family members are a top source of voting information for young voters. Others cited are YouTube and television news.
• Close to half of the respondents — 47 percent — could not name a single candidate. Twenty-one percent could name just one candidate.
• The Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., has increased political engagement for close to half of respondents. The top issue facing the country they list: school shootings.
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.