High schools take part in election

High schools take part in election

This week, Champaign County high schools are precincts, and their libraries and gathering places are polling places as students participate in a county-wide mock election.

In Centennial High School's library on Tuesday, members of social science teacher Mark Sikora's second-hour class were the first that hour to vote.

Junior Meret Kammerling said she found voting "intense," but was glad to go through the process before she votes in a real election in a few years.

"I'm glad we got to do this," she said.

Junior Benjamin Rogers said he's interested in seeing how third-party candidates fare in his school.

He said he doesn't support the two big parties, and voting gave him a chance to act on that opinion.

"Everybody has a voice," Rogers said.

"It was nice to give your opinion," added junior Nicole Wilson.

They were also happy to get their "I voted" stickers after casting their ballots in cardboard booths.

Most high schools in Champaign County are working with the county clerk's office and the League of Women Voters on the mock election this week. Results will be announced Friday.

Students are voting for president, as well as in different local and national races that best reflect the geography of their school districts.

They're also voting on several questions on the ballot designed just for them.

They're using everything you'd find in a polling place: ballots, privacy covers, vote tabulators, even the pens that show how to properly fill in the ballot.

Volunteers from the League of Women Voters are serving as election judges.

Champaign's high schools voted Tuesday and others will follow today and Thursday. At some schools, all students will vote, while at others, it will be just juniors and seniors.

Michael Pollock, social studies teacher at Urbana High School, worked with former County Clerk Mark Sheldon to put together a mock election in 2008 for his school.

He met with current County Clerk Gordy Hulten to work out this year's mock election, and he said Hulten's office and the League of Women Voters wanted to expand it to include other county high schools. They've been planning the mock election for more than a year.

"It gives students the chance to understand not only what it's like to use a county voting machine and ballot, but also how important it is to use that vote responsibly," Pollock said.

Every student at Urbana High School will vote in the school's mock election Thursday, Pollock said, and the student newspaper staff is publishing a special election edition of The Echo today.

"The reporters ... have been writing their brains out," Pollock said, and the edition includes things like candidate profiles and party platforms.

He and other teachers will use it as a teaching tool, he said, and he believes the mock election's results will be a topic in Urbana High School classrooms "well through Nov. 6."

He believes it's a way to teach students about how elected officials are chosen, how students can participate as citizens, how they can educate themselves and how to actually vote.

"People really need to understand who they're voting for and why," he said, and that's true in the larger community, as well.

"Civic responsibility is a crucial piece of education," Pollock said.

In a school of 1,100 students, a majority of students will be considering the issues, their own opinions and how to sift through information to decide what's important, he said. Those lessons will be useful to students, even after they graduate.

"I think these kinds of issues are ... important in terms of life-long learning," Pollock said.

Deborah Rugg, who's on the League of Women Voters' board of directors, said the mock election is meant to make students more comfortable with voting, which is essential for democracy.

Students who voted will be interested in the results, so it's encouraging engagement, as well.

"It's a good habit to foster," she said, and it emphasizes how voting is a part of this country's democratic values.

Tiffany Gholson, who's the sponsor of the African-American Club putting on the mock election at Central High School in Champaign, said all students there voted Tuesday.

"I think it's important for the kids to understand the duty to vote and the history and the struggle behind voting for different populations," Gholson said. "(It's) just to get them excited about it now. Once you're older there's not a lot of hoopla, you're just supposed to vote."

Hulten said the mock election is one way to show students how easy it is to vote and allow them to go through an authentic voting process.

"This is one of the things we can do to encourage them to register to vote," Hulten said.

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