The Wash
Kyra May working as an Election Ambassador at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Student ambassadors experience democracy firsthand

Montgomery County’s ‘Future Vote’ program offers youth a non-partisan way to participate in elections early on.

Around 1,000 students from sixth through 12th grade are working today as Election Ambassadors at polling places throughout the Montgomery County, Maryland.

Kyra May, 15, was busy assisting voters at the entrance of the polling place at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

“I was interested in elections, in how they worked. I wanted to see what it would be like before I voted,” Kyra said.

Lorenzo Antico, 15, said, “Every two years this happens, and it’s a pretty big deal. I’m curious to see how it looks.”

Lorenzo also said politics does seem confusing, hearing all the advertisements on TV. “It also seems kind of stressful for everybody a little bit, but it’s definitely interesting,” he said.

Election Ambassadors take on a wide range of tasks. They issue “I Voted” stickers to the voters, encourage them to sign up to be election judges, discard partisan literature from voting booth, and direct voters to restrooms.

Students need to attend a one-hour, in-person training to work as ambassadors on Election Day. Kyra said she was struck by the strictness of the protocols, such as “no logos on T-shirts that indicate any political affiliation.” Raphael Alkon, 15, said he learned that, “in order to do this whole thing, you had to pay attention to the tutorials and know everything.”

Nahid Khozeimeh, president of Montgomery County Board of Elections, said she was impressed to see young volunteers at 6 a.m. when she arrived at the high school. “We always have shortage of manpower and the student aides have been great help to us. They are so good at handling technologies.”

The Montgomery County Board of Elections has been operating the “Future Vote” program since 2004, except for 2020 when it had to cancel the program due to the pandemic. More than 45,000 students have participated in the program so far.

“Students leave the program with experience in how elections are set up and a greater understanding of and trust in American democracy,” the Board of Elections website says.

The Election Ambassador program is open for all students from sixth through 12th grade. US citizenship is not required, but the students need to be able to speak, read, and write in English. Students who are 16-years-old or older and able to register to vote can serve as election poll workers under the Future Vote program.

Ambassadors are not paid, but they receive Student Service Learning (SSL) hours for the hours they work, which is a Maryland state graduation requirement.

Patrick Flynn, chief judge at the polling site at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High, said being an Election Ambassador is an incredibly unique way to participate in democracy. “You can volunteer with candidates and other things that are more partisan in nature. But this is you just helping people all day, as long as you’re here, to vote. It is extremely non-partisan.”

“I was surprised when the young man said, ‘I can only work until 9 a.m. because I am under 15.’ It’s great to see them taking actions,” said Natalie Watson, a marketing assistant who came to vote at the high school.

Parents of ambassadors also welcomed the opportunity for their children to have the firsthand experience of democracy.

“To see the volume of people coming to cast their votes and try to make a difference is important for her,” said Katya Marin, Kyra’s mother.

Cinzia Furlanetto, Raphael’s mother, said, “This election will be a piece of history. So I think for them it is very important to be here.”

Nami Hijikata

Nami is a graduate student at American University pursuing a master's in Journalism and Public Affairs. She has worked for Nikkei, a leading Japanese business paper for 13 years. She covers Bethesda and Chevy Chase neighborhood in her role at The Wash.

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