Getting Active

Published 10:40 am Thursday, October 30, 2008

What a difference a year can make. That’s what Jessica Smoot discovered.

A year or two ago, Smoot, now 17, wasn’t caught up in that very American pastime, second only to baseball, called politics.

Today things are a lot different. So much so that Smoot, a Chesapeake High senior, has signed on to be a precinct worker this election — one of a dozen 17-year-olds in the county who will be the youngest on the crews at each polling place next week.

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Smoot credits much of her new point of view from the honors government class she’s taking now.

“I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” Smoot said. “It made me realize there was a lot going on in the U.S. with politics and the economy and that I should be more involved. My cousins look up to me and they might get involved.”

She can’t vote. But come next Tuesday, she’ll be helping those who can.

“Franklin County has been doing this for a long time. This is our third election,” Cathy Overbeck, board of elections director, said. “At the Ohio Secretary of State conferences, Franklin County did a wonderful presentation on it. It worked so well in their county, a very positive thing. We felt like we could use it in this county.”

Seventeen-year-olds can serve in all capacities as other workers except they cannot be presiding judges, a post that holds more responsibility. They receive comparable pay: $21 for instructional class and a base pay of $95.

About a month before each election, the board sends out voting packets to the schools. In it is a poll worker application so any students, 17 or older, can apply.

Those who sign up must go through a two-hour training session along with the veteran poll workers.

“It is an A to Z,” Overbeck said. “Everything they will need to know to be prepared for and equipped with to smoothly get through a very long day.”

A long day indeed. Smoot will be at the polling place at Waterloo Masonic Lodge for 14 straight hours.

“I’m kind of nervous just because it is my first time,” she said. “But I am excited. I can be around it and see how it works.”

Her newfound penchant for politics inspired her to watch the recent presidential and vice presidential debates.

“I loved watching the debates. Sarah Palin made me go more towards that side whenever the last one happened,” she said. “She did really good and didn’t let Joe Biden intimidate (her). That shows a good quality to me for a vice president to not be intimidated by anyone and be ready for anything.”

As far as the two men battling it out for the White House, Smoot says, while basically undecided, if she were to vote today, she leans toward Sen. John McCain.

“When Obama is himself, I feel he is a little brighter than when debating. He tends to go around the question and never answer it when in debate,” she said. “I think where (McCain) has been a war veteran, he has more experience especially with Iraq.”

In her government class Smoot says she sees her classmates as well-informed with valid opinions that may get discounted because of their youth.

“Our class has really good opinions that most adults don’t think of,” she said. “Younger people have a lot to say, but where they don’t get to vote, (their ideas) don’t get out there.”