Kids study elections, cast their own ballots
Electoral College gets a thumbs-down in class
CAPITAL REGION They may be too young to vote, but don’t mistake them for being uninformed about today’s general election.
Students in the Mayfield and Saratoga Springs school districts are casting ballots in a mock presidential election, voting either for President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
More than 100 Mayfield students and 6,600 Saratoga Springs students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 voted last week, Monday and today. Almost all of them were below the legal voting age of 18.
In Mayfield, students in pre-kindergarten, grades one through six and in classes offered by the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services served as the Electoral College, that unique institution in American politics that elects the president, regardless of the popular vote.
Later in the day, the Mayfield student body conducted a popular vote.
Teacher Paula VanDerVeer said the lesson was an attempt to show her students how the Electoral College decides who is “the leader of the free world.” The lesson has a timely value, as polling shows Obama and Romney evenly split in popularity among voters, which means the Electoral College vote could actually decide the next president.
For the most part, the 21 students in VanDerVeer’s sixth-grade social studies class weren’t too happy with the role the Electoral College plays in U.S. politics. “I feel that it should be the population to choose because whoever wins has the world in their hands,” said Max Insogna, 11.
Still, he said, should Romney capture the popular vote and Obama the Electoral College vote in the real world, he would accept the result. “You have to respect who is in office, even though I would not be happy,” he said.
VanDerVeer said, “A lot of people don’t like the Electoral College but in order to change it, they need to change the Constitution.”
The students voiced strong opinions about the race, showing they were following the campaign even though they are years away from being able to vote legally. VanDerVeer said many adults would be surprised by the depth of knowledge the children have about politics.
Insogna said he would vote for Romney because “Obama has run the country for the last four years and taxes are up, gas prices are up and he hasn’t taken the soldiers out of Afghanistan.” He said he watched the presidential debates and listens to the “O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News for information.
Natalie May, 11, wrote a one-page list of reasons she thinks Romney will win the popular vote while Obama will win the Electoral College vote.
“We are working our tails off to make more money for our families and mean Mr. Barack Obama takes it. Just because of taxes. Mitt Romney is more liked, even though he is seen [being] disrespectful to women,” she said.
Roy Andrilla, 11, said he would vote for Obama. “He solved many problems over the last four years. But you can’t expect him to solve them all in four years. We should give him more time,” he said.
One student, Shelby VanNostrand, 11, said she would not vote for either candidate. “Romney will raise taxes for people. Obama is taking away money from Medicare to pay for Obamacare,” she said. “They are both bad equally.” She said when she turns 18, she will vote because there will be new choices then.
The Saratoga Springs Teachers Association, with the support of school district administrators, coordinated the district-wide voting within the eight schools.
“It’s important for students to be engaged in the election process so that they will not only better understand the process, but will also become lifelong voters,” said high school social studies teacher Michael Miller, who serves as chair of the SSTA’s education concerns committee.
For many students, involvement in the election goes beyond casting a vote. Activities at the high school included a mock debate in October, pitting J.D. Towers as Romney against Jared Fein as Obama, with Jon Zinter serving as moderator. The debate was filmed in the school’s television studio, and will be shown in social studies classes.
After the mock election, students in high school statistics classes will do a statistical analysis of the results. The schools are also encouraging parents of elementary and middle school students to bring their children to the polls so they become familiar with the voting process.