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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Students Get Hands on Experience While Manning Area Voting Precincts

Ten University of Mississippi students, all enrolled in a political science service learning credit course, literally got their feet wet Tuesday while helping to staff Lafayette County voting precincts.

With rain and thunderstorms in the area, students arrived at their respective polling locations at 7 a.m., volunteering to work the entire 12 hours that polls were open.

“The hope is that these students will learn how to run an election,” said Richard Forgette, UM chair and professor of political science.

That was the case for sophomore political science major Matthew Jones of Birmingham, Ala. Volunteering as a poll worker definitely enabled him to better understand the election process, Jones said.

“Elections are fairly complicated and involve a lot of steps,” he said. “As a registered voter, it’s certainly different sitting on this side of the table.”

America faces a growing problem because the number of willing poll workers is slowly declining due to old age. With the infusion of technology in elections, poll workers must be trained to address voting equipment issues, Forgette said.

“Mississippi is unique in that it either has a federal or state election every year,” Forgette said. “This is the first time Ole Miss students have helped work the polls, and I hope we continue this every year.”

The new service learning course is supported by a grant from the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which mandated upgraded election procedures, including voting machines and registration processes. The law also established a program to recruit college students as poll workers.

“I’m all about hands-on learning,” said Daryl Porter, a sophomore political science major from Summit. “It’s a great opportunity and a lot different than being in the classroom.”

Course work included in-class discussions on election administration and election reform as well as extensive training sessions with the county board of elections. Besides helping man voting precincts, students will also write reflective essays on the experiences.

“It’s going to be a long day for these students,” Forgette said. “They should have a myriad of stories to share afterwards.”

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