ANKENY, Iowa (DTN) -- The Calamus-Wheatland (Iowa) Community School District FFA Chapter on Tuesday will live up to one of the most important parts of the FFA motto: living to serve.
Fourteen Calamus-Wheatland FFA members volunteered to serve as precinct election officials or helpers on Election Day. The students are part of a statewide FFA initiative to help ensure there are enough volunteers at polling places so the election runs smoothly.
The COVID-19 pandemic created recruiting challenges to efficiently operate polling places, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). Most poll volunteers are older than 60, who are at an increased risk of complications from the virus. Across the country, election officials were calling for younger people to volunteer to work at polls.
The Iowa FFA Association and IDALS suggested FFA members volunteer at local polling places to help protect high-risk populations, and many answered the call. FFA chapters in at least two other states -- Missouri and Kentucky -- also volunteered as poll workers following requests from state and local officials.
Calamus-Wheatland FFA President Chase Knoche, 18, said he and his classmates didn't think twice about volunteering. Two students will take 2-hour shifts starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday at the C-W Activity Center in Wheatland, the voting location for the city of 700 and Spring Rock Township.
"We are a super-small community, so it's so important to help," Knoche said. "Knowing we aren't as susceptible to the virus, we want to protect people any way we can.
"When the call came for help, there was no doubt in our minds what we had to do," he added. "A lot of FFA members want to serve the community."
Part of an FFA chapter's annual program of activities is to meet 15 quality standards throughout the year. One of those standards is citizenship.
"FFA chapter partnerships with local polling locations is a great opportunity for members to learn about and value citizenship in their communities," said Scott Johnson, Iowa FFA Association executive director.
Knoche added it's his civic duty to help and vote, which he will for the first time. He turned 18 three weeks ago.
The soon-to-be-first-time voter has paid attention to the issues, in particular agriculture. Knoche said that will play an important part in who he votes for coming from a farming community. His family owns a "hobby farm" with livestock, such as goats and cows.
"So many people feel encouraged to vote this time. It's nice to be a part of that," Knoche said.
Each precinct has an election official who helps check in voters, answers questions, guides them through the voting process and guards the integrity of the election. To be a precinct official, an individual must be registered to vote in Iowa, at least 17 years old and a resident of the county in which they are working. Officials also participate in a training session before Election Day.
FFA members not serving as election officials will assist them and help sanitize polling places, among other duties.
"Now more than ever, it's critical for our young leaders to play active roles in the election process," Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said in a news release. "I'm challenging Iowa FFA members and young alumni to assist in some way at their local polling places on Election Day. Not only is this a great way to protect the most vulnerable Iowans, it's also an opportunity to serve communities while witnessing democracy in action.
The Iowa FFA Association sent an email of state chapters seeking volunteers, and IDALS issued a news release doing the same on Oct. 20. Calamus-Wheatland FFA Adviser Blair Bodkins said their chapter's volunteer sheet was filled that day.
"Our students like to do community service and jumped on the opportunity," Bodkins added.
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