Friday, April 19, 2019

Do we REALLY want 16 year olds manning voter booths in Oklahoma? REALLY?

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     On Thursday, Senate Bill #444, passed the State House 64-32.  The bill was amended earlier that morning removing to remove a provision allowing state workers and teachers to work the polls on Election Day, and receive pay from both.  Language was amended that took away the sovereign rule sought by the state and county election secretaries and restored it to the county election boards.  But one fishhook remained.  In the original bill, 16 year olds, with the permission of their parent and school principal, could have served as a precinct judge, inspector, or clerk.  Non-voters(16 year olds can’t register to vote) working an election.  After much discussion, it was agreed the section allowing 16 year olds to work elections would be removed from the bill, but at the last minute the following language was added:   In the event that a regularly scheduled judge or clerk is unable to serve on election day, the secretary of the county election board may temporarily assign the duties of that judge or clerk to a student precinct official described in this subsection.  During debate on the floor, the House author, Rep. Harold Wright, (R-Weatherford), stated that ‘students would only be used as a precinct official temporarily and in an emergency.’ The bill now goes back to the Senate for a vote and unless the bill is amended there, 16 year olds may be handing out ballots at the next election.  Three observations:
     First, non-voters should NEVER be involved in conducting an election.  Everyone wants young people to be involved in their government, but running our elections is not the way.  Are we so desperate for poll workers in Oklahoma that we have to get 16 year olds to man the polling places?  The process and responsibility for recruiting workers at the polls starts with cooperation between the county election board secretary and the two major Parties.  The Party committees are charged with providing a list of potential workers to the election board secretary.  Each precinct in the state has a member of each of the Parties working and a third from the Party of the plurality. 
     Election board secretaries should be reaching out to Party officials and encouraging them to provide them a pool of potential workers from registered voters, not non-voters.  SB #444, in its original form, cut out Party involvement in the poll worker recruiting process, but thankfully that provision was removed.
     Second, who defines an emergency and temporary?  If a county election board secretary decides they want to use a 16 year old at the polls, rest assured an ‘emergency’ will arise and temporary can be a relative term as well.  According to the guidelines set forth in using the non-voting 16 year olds, both a school official and parent must sign off before a non-voter can be used.  That takes time and why wouldn’t that time be used to find a registered voter (from either Party) to man the polls instead of a non-voter?   
     Third, poll workers deserve a raise.  The raise is a part of SB #444 and by planting fishhooks in this bill, the authors have jeopardized the much needed pay raise.  No state in America uses non-voter to work their polls- why would Oklahoma?  Please contact your state senator and ask them to oppose passage of SB #444 until the provision to allow 16 year olds(non-voters) to man the polls is removed.

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