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They Can’t Vote, But These Teens Stepped Up To Work The Polls  

Samea Derrick (left) says Gen Z is forward thinking and inclusive. "We want change." (Mariana Dale/LAist)
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High school seniors Samea Derrick and Olivia Kook are both 17 years old -- which means they couldn’t vote in this year’s election. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t participate.

“Hey, vote center’s that way. Just follow the arrows!”

Derrick and Kook were among a group of local high school student election workers who helped out on Tuesday at a vote center at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.

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The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder's Office estimated it would need nearly 17,000 people to help run the general election and hired teens to work, under adult supervision, through its high school student program.

“A lot of election workers are usually seniors and a lot of seniors want to stay home right now, which is perfectly understandable,” Derrick said. “I thought there would be a shortage. That's why I wanted to volunteer.”

Derrick and Kook found out about the program through their school, Academy of the Canyons, a public “middle college high school” that blends high school and college classes and shares a campus with the similarly named community college.

The two hadn’t seen each other in person since the pandemic forced the campus to shut down in March. On a normal Tuesday afternoon, they’d be in class in a building just a few hundred feet away.

Instead they log into online classes from morning until night.

“A lot of us are burning out right now,” Kook said. “Like a couple weeks ago, I just kind of stopped doing my work. I gave up for a bit… I felt like I couldn't do it, like, take another day of it because it feels like it's the same day over and over again.”

Directing voters to the polls and watching for electioneering was a welcome change.

“It's refreshing because I know a lot of my friends said they just felt so lonely throughout this entire time,” Kook said.

Derrick took on the responsibility of talking to voters who tried to enter the polls wearing the names of specific candidates on their clothing. In California, it’s considered electioneering and is illegal.

“The first dude I talked to, he was a little confrontational,” Derrick said of man wearing a Donald Trump shirt, mask and hat.

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“He's like, ‘Well, what do you want me to do? Go in shirtless?’ And I'm like, ‘No, sir. But you can flip the shirt inside out if you wanted to.”

The man did and was able to successfully cast a ballot.

Although the 17-year-olds didn’t get to vote themselves, Derrick says she’s been paying close attention to the news.

“Currently, I am really unhappy with how the climate change crisis is being handled, which is very poorly,” she said. “I want that to change. I want transformational changes, both socially and, you know, politically.”

All in all, the day was relatively quiet. Before Election Day, L.A. County officials had already received more than 2.9 million ballots. In 2016, there was a total of 3.5 million votes.

There was plenty of downtime for playing cards, attempting to make TikToks and having refreshingly normal conversations, like where to get food on their break.

“They make killer paninis at the mall,” Derrick said. She usually orders the mushroom and spinach one.

Another mall option? Hot Dog On A Stick, with its iconic blue, red, yellow and white striped uniforms, which Derrick was pretty sure she’d never eaten.

“You’ve never had Hot Dog On A Stick?” Kook asked, incredulous.

“It’s just a hot dog on a stick,” Derrick said. “How good could it be?”

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