About 23 students from Pittsfield and Taconic high schools have been recruited as poll workers for the fall election because of an increase in demand.

IBerkshires.com reports that the idea came about after City Clerk Michele Benjamin got in touch with Pittsfield High School teacher Heather Tierney at the end of the last school year over her concern about a lack of poll workers.

Back in June at the end of the school year, City Clerk Michele Benjamin got in touch with Pittsfield High School teacher Heather Tierney over her concern about a lack of poll workers. This is when they had the idea to recruit high school students.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, more hands are needed at each polling station to ensure that everything is sanitized and federal and state health guidelines are followed. Also, more than 50 percent of the national population of poll workers are older than 60 years and are at high risk to the novel coronavirus.

Benjamin said the recruitment of high school students means there will be "more than enough" poll workers. She said had Pittsfield removed from an email list of locations that need more workers because every position has been filled.

Benjamin credits most of the recruitment to Tierney, saying, "Heather worked her tail off, and I want to give her credit for what she did."

The first students to be recruited were senior members of the PHS Class Council 2021. When first recruited, they believed they would be working on a volunteer basis and were enthusiastic about becoming poll workers. The students were paid a stipend for their work, but Benjamin described it as a "little added bonus" since they didn't know they would be paid.

She also says these students are very engaged in the current political climate and in our immediate future as a country.

In response to COVID-19, the state changed age restrictions for poll workers to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be eligible with a guardian's permission. Before, poll workers were required to be 18 years old and be a registered voter.

This gives younger people the opportunity to learn about the voting process before they are of age, and in turn makes them more proficient voters when they turn 18.

Benjamin said the city will be receiving funds from the state to help cover the cost of the additional election workers.

The state also ordered screen guards for every municipality in the state along with personal protective equipment and sanitizing materials. She said the state has also been very proactive in promoting social distancing and cleanliness.

Benjamin and Tierney assure the public that voting is "totally safe" because of these extra workers and extra measures put into place. She explained the extent at which everything needs to be sanitized at a polling site, including every single pen.

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