MANKATO — When Blue Earth County voters go to the polls next month, they might get their ballot from a high school student getting an early civics lesson while raising money for class trips.
Fourteen students at Immanuel Lutheran School on Wednesday prepared to become election judges and election judge trainees.
They are participating in Blue Earth County's new Adopt a Precinct program that invites groups of volunteers to serve as election judges and raise funds for their school or organization.
Most of the Immanuel Lutheran School students are still too young to vote and, therefore, too young to serve as an election judge. They are instead classified as election judges in training.
Trainees can perform almost all of the needed functions of a full judge, said Blue Earth County Taxpayer Services Director Michael Stalberger, who oversees elections.
Immanuel Lutheran teacher Benjamin Hanel didn't require his American government students to serve as judges or judges in training, but every student in the class volunteered for the opportunity.
The students are donating the $10 per hour they will earn toward either the school's annual junior class trip to Washington, D.C., or for the senior class' graduation celebrations.
More importantly, Hanel said he hopes serving as an election judge inspires his students to become active voters. Surveys show that many of the young people who don't participate in elections don't do so because they don't know how, the history and government teacher said.
“The ultimate goal to expose them to the voting process,” Hanel said.
Before the two hours of training required by law to serve as an election judge, Stalberger gave the Immanuel students an extra lesson that walked them through the rules of voting and the importance of civic engagement.
Only half of people ages 18 to 24 exercised their right to vote in the last general election, he told the students.
There is no good excuse not to vote, the county official said.
“People will say they are too busy to vote. But in Minnesota that really doesn't fly anymore,” Stalberger said. “You can get out of work or you can vote absentee. We will mail you a ballot with all the postage paid. You vote at home and send it back to us. We make voting pretty easy.”
Immanuel senior Abigail Stelter is preparing to vote for the first time. She's finding the process of selecting candidates who best match her views a bit daunting, she said. Learning to be an election judge is meanwhile taking away her apprehension about how to register and then cast her votes.
Stelter and junior Nikolai Becker said the experience they get at a polling site will be worth having to make up the work they miss in their regular classes.
“I'm pretty interested to learn how voting works,” Becker said before his training began.
The students aren't the first to volunteer at the polls.
Maple River High School students were the county's first group of student judge trainees. They helped with the school district referendum vote in May.
Stalberger also visited East High School this fall, and while the school isn't adopting a precinct, several East students decided to independently become judges or trainees.
Students from two colleges also are participating in the Adopt a Precinct program. Members of the Bethany Lutheran College Student Senate and social work majors from Minnesota State University have completed their training.
The initiative was named Adopt a Precinct with the idea that groups might provide all the judges needed to staff some precincts. The student groups this Election Day are instead fanning out across multiple precincts where they are needed.
The county is no longer recruiting groups for this November, but Stalberger said he hopes to continue and expand the program in future years.