Bellefonte students take a behind-the-scenes look at democracy


The wheels of government turn slowly — which is all the more reason for a group of enterprising youngsters to get off to an early start.

A squad of 23 students from Bellefonte Area High School arrived on Penn State’s campus around 6:15 a.m. Tuesday to carry out their civic duty — and some of them can’t even vote yet.

No, that great privilege belonged to the people filtering in and out of the HUB-Robeson Center’s Alumni Hall, where they cast their votes in the presidential primary.

Democracy, as it turns out, is not short on paperwork or manual labor.

You can teach the theory but they don’t know what the experience is like.

Ed Fitzgerald, social studies chair at BAHS

There are voting machines that need to be set up, questions to be answered and forms to be signed.

Helping to dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” were the BAHS students, who were scheduled to trade nearly 15 hours of volunteer work for insight into the democratic process.

“You can teach the theory but they don’t know what the experience is like,” Ed Fitzgerald, social studies chairman at BAHS, said.

Fitzgerald has been sending students into voting locations throughout Centre County for nearly two decades now, walking them through each of the different jobs and various pitfalls that can occur along the way.

He views the arrangement as mutually beneficial — the students get a sneak peek at the weird and wonderful privilege of voting and democracy can rest assured that the volunteers of tomorrow are being well-groomed.

“If the next generation doesn’t step up to take over these roles we’re all in trouble,” Fitzgerald said.

Katelynn Walker is a senior at BAHS, but in Alumni Hall her most relevant title was judge of elections.

Basically we’re there to solve problems and answer any questions that our precinct has.

Katelynn Walker

She arrived at the HUB early Tuesday morning and aside from two brief breaks for lunch and dinner, was anticipating working until about 9:15 p.m

“Basically we’re there to solve problems and answer any questions that our precinct has,” Walker said.

It isn’t always easy. The volunteers have to be careful not to comment on the ballot in any way that might influence the voter.

“They come in with the information they come in with and make their decision off of that,” Walker said.

Andrew Uhring was one of the other election judges on duty. He was a senior at BAHS the first time that he volunteered with Fitzgerald and his students.

Now, Uhring is a freshman at Penn State and grateful to once again be getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the democratic process.

“I just think that voting is really important. I think that civic engagement is really important. I just love doing it,” he said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready