Middle school students cast ballots in mock election

Middle school students cast ballots in mock election
Mexico Middle School student Phyllis Timmons marks her ballot during the mock election organized by the League of Women Voters on Thursday. (Dave Faries)
By: 
Dave Faries
Editor

Kayleigh Wiecken voted. So did Anna Akeman, Matthew Prater and Vershard Williams.

Their votes didn’t actually count toward any candidate’s election – all four are students at Mexico Middle School – but the names on the ballots were real and the process similar to what Audrain County’s registered voters experienced on Tuesday.

“You have to be patient and be truthful,” said Charley Jackson, also a middle school student, after casting her ballot.

Mexico’s seventh and eight grade students were able to participate in the electoral process thanks to a mock election organized by the League of Women Voters and held last week. It’s an event that takes place every two years and is designed to give young people their first hands on experience at the polls. Ultimately, says organization’s Voting Service Chair Alice Leonatti, the goal is to encourage students to participate in the future.

The mock election is as realistic as possible. Students must register to be able to vote. Ballots are printed up by the County Clerk’s office and reflect current races. There are precincts and judges – in this case students who volunteer, checking in each registered voter. There is also a box to drop off the completed ballots, which is whisked to the county to be tallied.

Students will learn the final results in class.

“We take them through the history, the electoral college, everything behind the election,” explained Travis Simmons, a teacher at Mexico Middle School.

The League of Women Voters has been running the mock election for more than 30 years. They put together materials to aid instruction and oversee the process. The reward, Leonatti says, is witnessing the enthusiasm of the students.

And it is evident to any observer.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” said Vashard Williams after checking his ballot.

“I’m looking at the paper and I’m excited,” observed Jaylin Merriman of the experience.

“It was something new,” Mac Haag added. “It felt good.”

Merriman said that after going through the mock election, the real thing won’t be as intimidating.

In addition to four precinct tables, 20 voting stations were set up in the Mexico YMCA gymnasium. In normal years the League uses real poll locations. But with COVID-19 precluding use of the school – which has welcomed voters in the past – and social distancing a necessity, the YMCA offered its large gym and spaced out the booths. Students, teachers and League volunteers also donned masks. And each station was sanitized afterward, again reflecting realities of the day.

Such precautions did not dampen the enthusiasm.

“It’s been cool for them to see the whole process,” said Matt Nachreiner, who teaches seventh grade social studies. “They like it a lot.”

Leonatti explains that results of the mock poll tend to mirror those of the real deal. But there are some differences, as well as some playfulness, the occasional write in, for example. One student borrowed “I Voted” stickers from classmates, walking around with four on his sweatshirt -- a bit of junior hijinks.

Yet students were silent and thoughtful as they took ballots to the booth. The serious demeanor remained until after completed ballots were deposited and an “I Voted” sticker affixed to their shirts.
“It’s cool to have the opportunity,” Jackson said.

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