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Tennessee Joins Other States In Lowering The Age For Election Workers

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

Tennessee has launched a campaign to help counties recruit new people to work the polls. That's because right now, a lot of longtime poll workers don't feel safe spending hours in a public place on Election Day. And now teenagers are heeding the call. Sergio Martinez-Beltran of member station WPLN reports.

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: 16-year-old Alayna Fuson is one of the newest poll officials in Tennessee. Yes, you heard right. She's not old enough to vote, but she's helping run the elections in Henry County.

ALAYNA FUSON: I just thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about it because I really didn't know anything about it, so I thought that would be a good opportunity.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Fuson can be a poll worker thanks to a new law that lowered the minimum age to serve in Tennessee, joining other states that allow 16-year-olds work the elections. According to Tennessee election officials, at least 596 poll workers across the state are 21 or younger.

DeLaina Green is the elections administrator in Henry, the rural county northwest of Nashville. She says planning for this year's events has not been easy.

DELAINA GREEN: Oh, you cannot even imagine. With COVID, it has been a very challenging election.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: But Green says that recruiting younger people has made it better.

GREEN: Not only am I getting them involved, but I'm actually seeing these kids - most of them since they were kindergarten up to this point.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: In fact, 32% of the poll workers in Henry County are under 18, which at times makes it complicated. First, it's not that easy to get ahold of teenagers during the summer break. And when Green finds those interested, she has to convince them to attend the training.

GREEN: You know, a mindset of a 16-year-old, even though they take school very serious, they're dedicated to their sports - I need them to understand the importance of when you attend training, that means you're making a commitment.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Green says the fact that they get paid has helped, but having a connection has also been important. Many of the poll workers are in the same class as her daughter Callie. The 17-year-old has been working during early voting and has already learned a valuable lesson applicable to most situations in life.

CALLIE GREEN: To have patience, yes, definitely. It's basically just, like, a patience game.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: She says this experience has motivated her to vote when she turns 18.

For NPR News, I'm Sergio Martinez-Beltran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.