Nearly twenty St. Mary’s College of Maryland students studying the election process will gain firsthand experience Election Day, Nov. 4. Students of the 300-level political science course  “Parties and Elections,” offered by Professor Susan Grogan, are serving as election judges in various St. Mary’s County precincts as community service, consequently waiving the usual pay earned by election judges.

The students have all attended required election judge training off-campus. In the classroom, they have prepared themselves further by studying election processes and theories, voter machine technologies, best practices, voter behavior, and controversial current issues surrounding voting such as new voter identification laws, or the issue of voter fraud versus voter access. The “Parties and Elections” course fulfills the college’s ELAW (Experiencing Liberal Arts in the World) requirement necessary for graduation.

College students serving as poll workers or assistants to aid state and local governments in the administration of elections is not a new idea, says Grogan. Title 5 of the 2002 Help America Vote Act encourages the employment of college students as poll workers. However, she states, Title 5 has never been broadly funded and has not had funds to support campus poll worker programs and research since 2010.

Funding to support the Election Day activities of her class comes from a three-year grant received by the college in 2012 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant funds initiatives expanding civic-engagement and service-learning opportunities in the college’s core curriculum. “We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for supporting these service-learning opportunities,” said Beth Rushing, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty. “Students have the chance to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world situations – this kind of experience is a valuable part of a St. Mary’s College education.”

“Young adults who experience the process firsthand tend to stay more politically involved throughout their lives,” said Grogan. With this conviction, in 2012, Grogan and students of her “American Politics” class launched the nonpartisan, Stephen Colbert-inspired “We Just Want Stephen Colbert to Come to our College Super PAC” to help register voters in Southern Maryland.