Election 2012/West: Mock elections give students a role in democratic process

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One side of the Chartiers Valley High School cafeteria was awash in red, white and blue political signs Monday when students voted in a mock election for president of the United States. Some students wore the color of their preferred political party -- blue for the Democratic candidate and red for the Republican.

By the end of the lunch-period election, the final tally wasn't nearly as close as pollsters had said the real election would be:

President Barack Obama won with 52 percent of the vote, Mitt Romney got 41 percent and the remaining votes went to Libertarian and Green Party candidates and to write-ins.

Across the region, mock elections were held for students in all grades as part of social studies lessons.

The Chartiers Valley students' lunchtime election result did not reflect the actual vote Tuesday among voters in the four communities that make up the district -- Bridgeville, Collier, Heidelberg and Scott -- who favored Mr. Romney by a 51 to 49 percent margin, according to unofficial totals.

Voting was voluntary among the 1,100 high school students. A total of 568 chose to participate -- giving the school a turnout of just more than 50 percent.

Second-grade students in the primary school also gave the nod to Mr. Obama, who garnered 157 votes to Mr. Romney's 63.

The young students also got to vote on two issues that directly affect them. On the question of whether outdoor recess should be held in snow, 141 voted yes while 79 voted for indoor recess. Asked to vote for a field trip site, 127 went with the Heinz History Center while 93 voted for Meadowcroft Village.

The mock elections were spearheaded by teacher David Harhai and students in his Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics class and in an elective course, Law and Government.

Students spent several class periods making signs and paper voting ballots. Prior to the election, some visited Allegheny County campaign headquarters and some volunteered with political campaigns, Mr. Harhai said.

Students have been "very interested" in this election, he said.

Classroom discussions did not veer from controversial campaign topics, including abortion.

Both sides of all issues were discussed and debated, Mr. Harhai said.

"We're trying to encourage voter participation," among other things, he said.

Some students voted in Tuesday's actual election because they are 18.

Two of those voters, seniors Joe Holland of Collier and Jackie Stewart of Scott, helped run the mock election.

"I'm very excited about voting," Joe said.

And he wasn't shy about stating his presidential preference -- he came to school Monday wearing a blue T-shirt sporting the image of Mr. Obama.

"I like his views toward young America," Joe said, including education funding and health care coverage that keeps young people on their parents' health insurance until they are 26 years old.

Jackie said she purposely wore a red shirt to school because she planned to vote for Mr. Romney.

Asked why, she said, "his morals on pro-life and gun rights and his views on the economy and the war."

Students at Sto-Rox middle and high schools followed the same Democratic Party lines as their parents, with 89 percent of high schoolers voting Monday for Mr. Obama.

Middle school students, who voted online Tuesday using the website myvoicemyelection.org, supported the president with 88 percent of the vote. Their votes were counted in a nationwide poll created by the Pearson Foundation.

In Tuesday's vote in McKees Rocks and Stowe, Mr. Obama got 72 percent of the vote.

Seventh-grader Ryan Huckabee, 12, said his votes were swayed by political yard signs throughout his Stowe neighborhood.

Ryan joked that his last name was spelled "just like that guy on TV," referring to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who now hosts the show "Huckabee" on Fox News Channel.

Ryan said he felt Mr. Obama deserved a second term to allow him to finish what he had started.

Tayron Brown, 14, of Stowe was confused by campaign commercials.

"You don't know what to believe," he said.

His commercial viewing netted him the following tidbits: "They said Mitt Romney was going to destroy the economy and take away PBS Kids."

McKees Rocks resident Michael Stuvaints, 13, was worried that if Mr. Romney were elected, he would take away aid such as food stamps for those who are unable to work because of health issues.

"[When people are sick] it's harder for people to take care of themselves and they need help. It's wrong for people to not help other people," he said.

Like voters in some states, middle school students were able to take advantage of early voting.

The early voting was available for those who would be attending a field trip Tuesday. Those who participated in the online voting received an "I Voted" sticker and after lunch were treated to a red, white and blue cupcake from Principal Melanie Kerber.

In Moon Area, students voted along the same Republican lines as the majority of registered voters Tuesday in Crescent and Moon, who supported Mr. Romney with 58 percent of the vote.

In the mock election, the Republican candidate got 53 percent of the vote.

Students at the district's elementary schools backed Mr. Romney with 336 votes compared with 308 for Mr. Obama. Students at McCormick voted in favor of the president by just three votes.

While not all grades participated in a presidential election, some younger grades voted on topics geared toward an introduction to the electoral process.

Second-graders at Bon Meade voted for pretzels over fruit snacks as their favorite.

The students also created eagles as part of a "Vote Eagle" project initiated by art teacher Marian Day.

The students' decorated eagles were displayed around the entrance of the gymnasium, which is used by the community as a polling location.

Throughout Moon Area, social studies teachers used their classrooms as a platform to educate students on the electoral process and the candidates and issues involved.

"The students were very interested in the process and results," said Jason Ferri, social studies department chairman in the high school.

Fourth-graders at McCormick prepared a "gallery walk" in the main hallway for students to learn about the presidential candidates.

The walk depicts life-size pictures of the candidates along with a timeline of each candidate's life. Students also prepared summaries on each candidate's views on issues including education, taxes, defense, health care, economy and employment.

In the West Allegheny School District, the mock election went the other way.

Mr. Romney carried the high school with 209 votes and Mr. Obama got 134 votes. In the middle school, Mr. Romney got 376 votes, Mr. Obama 276 votes and 19 votes went to other candidates.

The student vote mirrored the choices of their parents. On Tuesday, voters in Oakdale, Findlay and North Fayette backed Mr. Romney with 57 percent of the vote.

Bishop Canevin High School students voted 137 for Mr. Romney and 78 for Mr. Obama.

The Catholic school in Oakwood comprises students who live in Pittsburgh and in many western suburbs.

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Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087. Sonja Reis, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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