For two days last week, the Mount Airy Middle School library was turned into a polling place as students participated in their own mock national election.
From Thursday to Friday, more than 600 students cast their votes for candidates for president, U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives through an online election program provided by the Pearson Foundation.
Assistant Principal Andrew Bowers said that the school has participated in mock elections for each presidential cycle for years, but he wasn’t sure how many.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s beneficial to the kids because all this stuff is happening around them, and this lets them feel included.”
Rachel Estes, 13, an eighth-grader at the school who voted Friday, agreed.
“It makes us feel like we have a choice,” she said. “It’s kind of important [to vote].”
Rachel said that she cast her vote for President Barack Obama (D) for the presidential race.
Kayla Mazalewski, 14, another eighth-grader, said she voted for Republican challenger Mitt Romney for president, noting that it “felt good” to vote.
“I think it is important to have a say,” Kayla said.
The school election is part of the “National Student/Parent Mock Election and My Voice” program.
Polling for the election began nationwide on Thursday and ends today. The school’s results will not be available until tomorrow.
To make the voting process as authentic as possible, students were required to register to vote by filling out a registration card provided by their teachers and present it to the polling attendants when they went to vote, said Ellen Kartisek, coordinator of the social studies department.
Students also got an “I voted” sticker when they were finished.
As part of the election, social studies teachers at the school gave their classes lessons on the election process and the main issues in this year’s election cycle using, among other things, materials provided by the Pearson Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promote literacy and learning.
“For a lot of the kids, this is their first experience with what voting is ... [they] are really into it,” Kartisek said. “The teachers are required to stay impartial. We don’t want to influence the kids at all.”
Kartisek said the students were encouraged to discuss the election and who they would vote for with their parents. Some also watched the televised national presidential debates at home, she said.
Pamela Lichty, a media specialist at the school, said many of the students have taken their voting responsibility very seriously.
“I think because we make a big deal about it, they get the idea that it’s important,” she said. “They do a beautiful job of respecting this. I’ve been really impressed.”
Kartisek said that the results of the mock election have varied as an indicator of actual presidential election outcomes.
During the 2008 election, for example, the students voted 334-220 for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). McCain lost to then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.
Obama also lost in Frederick County during the 2008 election, with 49.6 percent of county voters casting their ballots for McCain, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections website. He also lost by 64.3 percent in Carroll County.
In addition to instilling the importance of voting in the students and encouraging discussion, Kartisek said the mock election also influences the students’ parents.
“I think it also gets their parents out there [to vote],” she said. “The kids bring it home, and now it’s at the kitchen table.”