Election 2012/North: Mitt Romney tops straw polls in many classes

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The polling place inside North Hills Junior High School was hopping.

Voters checked in with poll workers, others waited to vote on computers, while some stopped for an exit interview.

Campaign signs in English and Spanish lined the hallways, and candidates wearing masks of President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney pressed the flesh, shaking hands with waiting student voters.

When all was said and done, Mr. Romney won by 11 votes in the mock election at the junior high. Mr. Obama prevailed, however, in all the other district schools, giving him an Electoral College victory of 445 to 93 and a victory in the popular vote 1,394 to 1,179.

At other north area districts, however, Mr. Romney was the overall winner.

At North Hills High School, Steve Hoza, a social studies and gifted education teacher, said the results reflected the polls.

"It's a statistical dead heat out here," he said "If you put the junior high and high school together, the difference was two votes. You couldn't get much closer than that."

The mock election results from last Thursday did not mirror their parents' votes Tuesday. Mr. Romney won 53 percent of the vote in Ross and West View, with Mr. Obama winning 47 percent.

Mr. Hoza said the four elementary and two secondary schools were assigned electoral votes in accordance with their percentage of district population.

Many schools held mock presidential elections last week, but the students at North Hills Junior High really went all out, said Joe Welch, a social studies teacher who coordinated the election there.

"The goal is to try to make it as authentic as possible," he said.

All students working the polls and portraying the candidates were eighth-graders. They visited campaign headquarters for posters. Sean Beal portrayed Mr. Obama, complete with rolled-up shirt sleeves and a latex mask.

"I want Obama to win the election," Sean said. "But I'm being burned, getting rejected."

Nicholas Balley, who portrayed Mr. Romney, wore a suit, also with a latex mask.

Gigi Balsamico, who supervised the voting, said students also were polled on a variety of issues, such as year-round school. That question got a surprising amount of support, she said, "because the days would be shorter."

At Ross Elementary School, voting took place in the library under the supervision of the gifted program teachers and the sixth-graders. Students voted on four questions.

"It's going really well," said sixth-grader and poll monitor Grace Cloonan. "Everything is running smoothly. The kids are getting through pretty quickly."

"It's pretty cool," said first-grader Jesse Holderny, who said he voted for Mr. Romney. "I want him to have a chance to be the president."

In North Allegheny, schoolwide mock elections took place in several elementary schools and two middle schools.

Mary Grace Kelly, librarian at Ingomar Middle School, said 607 of the 670 students voted during their social studies classes on a computerized ballot.

"We had the ballot but we also had something called 'match-a-matic' website that gives the issues, and the kids go through it and vote on which side of the issue they would be on, and it showed them what candidate supports that position," she said. "It was interesting to see that some of the kids were actually opposite of who they were ready to vote for."

Although Mr. Romney won overall, 309-279, Mr. Obama won the seventh-grade vote, Ms. Kelly said.

"It was a close election. It was close all the way around," she said. "The kids were so excited to be able to cast their votes."

Seventeen other people also received votes, including some teachers, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, she added.

At Ingomar Elementary School, students didn't just vote for president but also for their favorite smoothie flavor, said Principal Kristen Silbaugh. Students had taste-testing for smoothies under a grant from the National Football League the previous week, so their smoothie preference was added to the ballot, Ms. Silbaugh said.

Students there voted for Mr. Romney, 61 to 39 percent -- and for strawberry smoothies.

"We had pictures of both candidates and, for kindergarten, we used R for Romney and O for Obama to simplify it since they couldn't actually read."

At Marshall Middle School, Mr. Romney received 322 votes and Mr. Obama 246 votes. There were 23 write-in votes.

North Allegheny's adults also supported Mr. Romney on Tuesday with an unofficial vote of 15,043 to 9,653 in the four communities. The mock election results were extremely close at Quaker Valley Middle School, with Mr. Romney receiving 235 votes to Mr. Obama's 221 votes. In electoral votes, Mr. Romney also came out on top, 56 to 48.

And that closeness was mirrored by the adults.

The 11 municipalities comprising the district gave Mr. Romney 4,055 votes, compared with 3,089 votes for Mr. Obama.

At Hampton High School's student election, Mr. Romney received 515 votes, President Obama, 393 votes; Libertarian Gary Johnson, 38 votes; and Green candidate Jill Stein, 19 votes.

Hampton voters gave Mr. Romney 5,897 votes to Mr. Obama's 3,802 votes. A breakdown for Hampton was not available for the other candidates.

"Hampton has traditionally been a conservative community and the student results are in line with their parents," said Mary Lou Ellena-Wyonik, enrichment facilitator at the high school.

However, she said, Mr. Obama won by 10 votes among seniors.

"This is fairly typical," she said.

"As students take more social studies classes, engage in political discussions, and read varied political texts, they begin to form their own opinions. This is what education is all about."

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Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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