Who Will Run Georgia State University’s Early Polling Location? For the First Time Ever, It Was Students.
On March 9th and 10th, Georgia State University, where I am a student and Ambassador for The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Vote Everywhere program, was home to the first polling location on a university campus that was 100 percent run by students who attend the university. Advocating for this precedential all-student staff and polling location wasn’t easy but it was a necessary step to ensure our democracy is fair and accessible. Not only do student poll workers like me make polling places more representative for young voters, but we are also engaged and qualified enough for the job.
The reality of our on-campus poll being “student-run” meant that all the poll workers and the assistant managers are current Georgia State University students. We processed all votes that were cast at what we’re dubbing the “Historic Polling Location,” as it is the first one on our campus, in Fulton County, the state of Georgia—and to our knowledge—the world. The location was considered an “outreach location,” which is a special polling place that migrates to different sites across the county for a span of 2-3 days each.
This first-of-its-kind achievement was a collaboration between my on-campus organization Vote Everywhere GSU, the Fulton County Board of Elections, and Georgia State administrators. “Georgia State University is the second-most innovative university in the country,” I said many times to both Fulton County officials and to university administrators while planning the Historic Polling Location. I knew that Georgia State was the best place to test out this student-run concept, as innovation is what we are known for.
When we proposed this concept, three concerns rose to the top:
- Will students be reliable enough to be able to attend the training and show up to work?
- Are students qualified enough to run the polling location in compliance with election law?
- Will students be able to work the entire day at the polling location?
These questions led to months of meetings, interviews, resume submissions, and days of training. In order to gain the trust of the Fulton County Board of Elections, we recruited some of the best students that Georgia State has to offer. We submitted student resumes of military members, interns for the congressional Black Caucus, research fellows for the Pentagon, interns for the House of Lords, and Student Government members. We convinced the university to excuse our absences from classes while we worked the polls and to provide the space and parking for the location. We also persuaded Fulton County to train us in our duties on campus.
The training process took two months to complete, during which we received registrar training, customer service training, and training on the new polling machines. We were also guided on how to turn the student center ballroom into a polling location. Setting up the “Historic Polling Location” took one day, and we made sure to include an information table so that students who are not registered in Fulton County could still get information on early voting.
Our advocacy, training, and planning culminated with the opening of the first-ever student-run on-campus polling location. During the two days of polling, we helped 420 people cast ballots and gave more than 100 others essential information. Running the polling location was daunting and tiring, but it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Our polling location allowed many students to cast their ballots, and some of them were people I registered through my time with the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program. Our polling location saw no major issues and was essential to getting our students involved.
It was also fulfilling to work with my fellow students, who had to make many sacrifices to staff the polling location. All of us had competing priorities, including on- and off-campus jobs, class, and poll worker training. One of the poll workers worked late shifts after our trainings and did not complain once. There were also instances when I helped other workers explain to their internship coordinators the importance of the project. The dedication of these students showed me that what we were doing was right.
As a senior, I can say that this experience was the capstone of my undergraduate career. We hope that our example inspires universities and election officials across the country to support more students in being trained as poll workers and staffing polls on campus. It is time for our generation to take up this mantle and push it forward. We are the right candidates for the job.
About the Author
Evan Malbrough is a student and Andrew Goodman Ambassador at Georgia State University, where he majors in Public Policy with a focus on Governance and minors in Cello Performance.