- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - For the next month, Pierre and Fort Pierre residents may be surprised to find themselves face to face, not with a candidate ready to talk about the upcoming election, but with a high school student who can’t even vote.

That ineligible voter would be Anna Maher of Fort Pierre. She’s spending upward of 30 hours a week stumping for Democrat Ruth Rehn, who is running for the state Legislature, as part of a fellowship aimed at engaging youth.

Since the middle of August, Maher has been instrumental in the Rehn campaign, as she has helped recruit and train other volunteers, knocked on doors and even been involved in a few parades. It’s a step up from the days when she was the cute kid standing next to her father, who previously ran for office, the Pierre Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/1yyDMJk ) reported.

“Anna is part of the team,” said Rehn. “We don’t consider her a high school student. She’s just a team member who happens to be in high school.”

Maher connected with Rehn, a first time candidate running against incumbent Republican Jeff Monroe to represent the 24th district in the state Senate, as part of the South Dakota Democratic Party’s Young Elected Legislative Leaders, or YELL, program. The program seeks to engage high school students in the political process by bringing them to the state Capitol for a mock legislative session with Democratic leaders.

Although Maher was unable to take part in the mock session, which took place earlier this year, she has become involved in the world of politics as a fellow. The position is paid and provides students such as Maher, who is currently a senior at T.F. Riggs High School, a chance to be directly involved in campaigning. YELL fellows are matched up with a candidate running for the state Legislature, which is how Maher met Rehn.

The campaigning process has given Maher a hands-on view of the election process. She’s gone from nervously talking to people about Rehn to occasionally training volunteers. She’s learned how campaign budgets work and the importance of time management in a race that is set to end in just over a month.

“It’s been a learning experience for the both of us,” Maher said.

Rehn and Maher both admit that even if they can’t tell which way people they meet are leaning - for or against Rehn - after having a porch front conversation, everyone has been welcoming.

“Overall people have been very kind,” Maher said.

Despite the fact that she won’t be eligible to vote until next year, Maher is using her newly discovered interest in politics to encourage her friends to register to vote.

While Maher doesn’t know if she will be involved in future campaigns, the fellowship has given her a taste of what it’s like to be part of a candidate’s team.

___

Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, https://www.capjournal.com

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