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Vassar professor heads up DCCAN, a new, nonpartisan program to train Dutchess County college students as poll workers for the fall 2008 election

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—To boost the election process this year, the U.S. government has provided grants to 27 colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations for the training and employment of poll workers under the United States Election Commission’s Help America Vote College Program.

Vassar political science professor Sarita McCoy Gregory’s response to the federal initiative is the Dutchess County Citizen Action Network (DCCAN), a nonpartisan, educational collaboration of three Dutchess-based campuses—Dutchess Community College, Marist College, and Vassar College—partnered with the Dutchess County Board of Elections. Through DCCAN, any college student, who is registered to vote in Dutchess County, may participate in this poll worker training program. Vassar was awarded $31,785 to develop and implement the program.

Gregory's inspiration for founding DCCAN was drawn from her course, “Democratic Engagement,” which she taught during the spring 2008 semester at Vassar. She gave her students an assignment to serve as poll watchers for the Town of Poughkeepsie. In order to do this, the students had to become certified by the Board of Elections. “The 18 students really had a chance to witness the democratic process in action,” said Gregory, an assistant professor of political science. "Many of my students were from out-of-state and had never voted in actual precincts before so it was a fascinating process for them to observe.” Gregory pointed out that poll watchers do not have to go through the same training as poll workers, however for both certification is necessary.

Following the advice of the Commissioner of the Dutchess County Board of Elections, Gregory decided to train poll workers, as there is a shortage of them in Dutchess County and throughout the country. "Poll workers are the people who ensure the conduct of fair and accurate elections," observed Gregory. "They will prepare the individual precincts, setting up voting equipment, greeting voters, verifying registrations, and providing voters with appropriate ballots. At the end of the Election Day, poll workers will close the precinct and prepare election materials for delivery or actually deliver the material to the Elections office."

The initial phase of the DCCAN program began in August with the training of twelve students to serve as "campus fellows." Each of these twelve, returned to their respective campuses to then seek to recruit between 10–20 students each to serve as poll workers. “We’re ultimately trying to recruit 200 students to serve as poll workers this fall in Dutchess County,” Gregory explained. Each of the students will receive training through the Board of Elections, so that they will become certified as an official poll worker to serve in the upcoming November 4 election.

“The student poll workers will help check names against the official roster and provide any appropriate assistance to voters.  However they’re not able to or allowed to electioneer in any way,” said Gregory. “They’ll be trained in cultural sensitivity, making sure that people coming to the polling place to vote feel comfortable. Basically we will help them to smile, be friendly, and create a warm and inviting place for people to come and vote.”

“Our goal, for the students is not only to train them to be poll workers, but to get them excited about their own civic engagement, in a way that is meaningful. The fact that they can be an actual part of helping to ensure the election and democracy, as it is actually occurring, is important,” Gregory concluded. “The commitment isn’t huge, but it is a way they can look forward to participating in this area, in Dutchess County, and it may hopefully lead to a continued participation in their adult lives.”

In addition to the civic engagement and training program, students who join the DCCAN poll worker program will receive a stipend of $35 for attending one of the three training sessions as well as $215 for working at a polling place, from approximately 5:00 am to 9:00 pm, somewhere in Dutchess County, on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4.

The student poll worker training will be held on Friday, September 19; Thursday, October 2; and Wednesday, October 22 (locations and times to be announced, contact pollworkers2008@vassar.edu). Note that Friday, October 10, is the last day to sign up with DCCAN.

For further information about DCCAN or to sign up with the program, e-mail pollworkers2008@vassar.edu

People with disabilities requiring accommodations should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Directions to the Vassar Campus in the Town of Poughkeepsie are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, September 12, 2008