NEW ORLEANS — Pint-size voters lined up for the chance to have their voices heard during a mock election Monday at the Gentilly Terrace Charter School.
Students in pre-kindergarten through second grade were given a piece of paper with images of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney and asked to circle their preference before stuffing their ballots into a paper-covered box. Older students had to first show their registration cards before putting a check mark next to the name of their choice for president.
The school’s band, with a string of young horn players leading the drum line, marched through the hallways at full volume, creating an air of patriotism and excitement as the students cast their votes class by class.
The experience was intended to be as much like voting in real life as possible, assistant principal X. Patrice Wright said.
“You need to have your card in hand verifying that you are who you say you are, and after you vote, you will get a pencil, a sticker and a Tootsie Roll,” Wright told a group of sixth-graders. “And then you’ve done your civic duty. It’s your responsibility to choose who you believe is the better candidate,” adding it is not “someone else’s job to tell you who to vote for.”
Leading up to the vote, Wright said students learned about the process and history of voting in class. The third-graders were given an assignment to watch one presidential debate and answer questions about what was discussed. The fourth-graders learned about the Electoral College and the distinction between winning the electoral and popular vote.
Special education teacher Louis Mallory, who was manning one of the voting booths, said the exercise was intended to instill the importance of voting, teach the process and historical context and give students a feel for what it would be like to go to the polls when they reach voting age.
In a first-grade class, Wright asked how many students knew the voting age. Nearly all raised hands with the correct answer. Wright then threw in a twist — that if they were, at present, 6 years old, how many more years would it be until they could vote? The second question proved trickier, but one student eventually came up with the number 12.
“When I grow up, I want to vote, and I want to inspire people to vote,” said sixth-grader Mariah Brown. “Voting is important because the president can fix problems and bring more to the people.”
Middle school counselor Amy Henley said the mock election was important in exposing students to the democratic process, a lesson they might not get at home.
After pushing their folded pieces of papers into the box, the first-graders lined up in the hallway grinning proudly with “I voted” stickers on their shirts. The first-graders’ perspectives were a bit vague. One student was focused on sharpening his brand new pencil. Another said that he voted for Obama because, “He loves the USA,” while another classmate said her vote was based on who was the “real one” and the “fake one.”
Not exactly a battleground environment, the results, including the votes of faculty and staff were a landslide: 417 cast ballots for Obama and 36 for Romney.
Henley said she hopes the classroom lessons and mock election “get the students to understand that it’s their privilege to exercise their right to vote” and that it is a the privilege for which was fought.
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