Presidential race spurs 600 teens to seek jobs at polls

Absentee ballot requests in Mahoning County are up 40 percent over 2004.



YOUNGSTOWN — Steven Bensinger, 18, is part of an excited new generation of poll workers.

The South Range senior received his poll worker training Saturday at the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

He’s never cast a vote in an election. But he knows which box he will check March 4.

“I want to vote for Obama,” he said. “I did a report about him a long time ago, and I’ve always been interested in him ever since.”

Young people like Bensinger have come forward in force since the board of elections sounded the call for 17- and 18-year-old poll workers this election. About 600 high school students responded — more than twice the availability, said Joyce Kale-Pesta, the board’s deputy director.

The county has never solicited assistance from school-age individuals before.

“We were overwhelmed by the response,” said Kale-Pesta. “I think the kids are more enthused this year than I’ve seen in a presidential election.”

“When I was a kid, it was Kennedy, but I think for them it’s Obama and Hillary,” she added.

But Obama mania cannot be credited for all the excitement among young elections workers.

Trainee Tyler Hawkins, 17, said he hasn’t decided; he’s split among Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain.

“I’m kinda excited about all of them,” said the Western Reserve senior. “It’s going to be my first time voting.”

Because of the strong response, about half of the new recruits will be relegated to alternates during the March 4 election. Those who spend Election Day in a voting location will be paid $127.

About 1,200 poll workers will be in place at Mahoning County’s 287 precincts on Election Day. In each location, one young poll worker will reset voting machines and help guide irregular voters toward provisional ballots.

County elections officials think the influx of young blood will benefit the parties on both ends of the exchange for years to come.

“We need you,” elections official Raymond Butler told the third group of 17- and 18-year olds Saturday. “We can’t do this without poll workers. Our group is aging. They’re tired. They’ve been here year after year.”

In jest he said, “The mean age of our poll workers is probably about 82.”

The extra help couldn’t come at a better time, said Kale-Pesta. Early indications show excitement about this election is transcending generations.

“We have about 10,000 absentee ballots out, which is up about 4,000 from our last presidential race,” she said.

Early voting is also on the rise, said Kale-Pesta. The elections board has been processing about four advance votes daily, a 100 percent jump over the last election, she said.