Student Mock Election asks for future voters’ opinions

October 25, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 9 a.m. Oct. 25, 2012

The minimum age to vote is 18, but the hurdle did not stop students throughout the Issaquah School District from casting ballots in the tight races for president and governor.

Educators on local campuses organized mock elections or joined the annual Student Mock Election overseen by the state elections office to educate students about the importance of participation in the political process.

Students at Issaquah and Tiger Mountain Community high schools, Issaquah Middle School, and Creekside, Endeavour and Sunny Hills elementary schools cast ballots in ersatz elections or plan to do so by the actual Election Day, Nov. 6.

Teachers involved in the mock elections said the exercise is about more than determining whether students support Jay Inslee or Rob McKenna for governor.

“Because of this, we’ve got students asking questions like, ‘How do I register to vote?’ So we’ve connected them with how they do that,” said Lane Helgeson, a language arts teacher at Tiger Mountain Community High School. “Some of them actually have registered to vote and they’ve already mailed in their ballots.”

Jeremy Ritzer, a social studies teacher at Issaquah High School, said the mock election is the next step for a curriculum shaped by election events.

Throughout the campaign season, he hosted 8th Congressional District candidates Karen Porterfield and Dave Reichert, and 5th Legislative District state Senate candidates Mark Mullet and Brad Toft. Students also heard from same-sex marriage Referendum 74 supporters and opponents.

McKenna spoke to seniors in Ritzer’s Advanced Placement Government & Politics class June 1.

Organizers plan to set up voting booths in the school’s black box theater, so students can cast ballots during social studies classes.

Students must show school-issued identification in order to vote, and students without ID receive a provisional ballot.

Ritzer also plans to conduct a public opinion survey to show if the pre-election responses match election results.

Helgeson said Tiger Mountain organizers combined a mock presidential election and a real Associated Student Body election.

“Students that we never would have thought would have voted or bought in actually are starting to buy into this, as they recognize the importance of elections and policies in their future,” he said.

Helgeson said each classroom receives electoral votes, so some classrooms could carry outsize influence, just like swing states in the presidential contest.

The statewide Student Mock Election started at 9 a.m. Oct. 29 and runs until 1 p.m. Nov. 2. Organizers plan to release results soon after the voting period ends.

Students in grades six to 12 vote for most statewide measures on the November ballot, and students in kindergarten through fifth grade receive a shorter, more age-appropriate ballot.

In 2008, a record 18,000 students participated in the Student Mock Election. Based on the number of “I voted” stickers requested by teachers, state Elections Division staffers estimate participation in the days ahead could encompass 25,000 students.

The top elections official in Washington, Secretary of State Sam Reed, said the Student Mock Election is a valuable tool to educate future voters about the ballot process.

“The mock election is a great way to introduce students to voting and show them why it’s such a fundamental part of democracy,” he said in a statement. “It’s important that young people develop a sense of civic involvement, and I hope teachers will seize this opportunity and encourage students to practice voting. We want students to appreciate the significance of this right and privilege so they will register and vote for real when they turn 18.”

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