Area high-schoolers heading to polls to practice civic duty

Area high-schoolers heading to polls to practice civic duty

CHAMPAIGN — In the second-floor library at Champaign Central High School, Lara Sweid and about 20 others stood patiently in line just before noon Tuesday.

Those in front of her checked in with election judges, got their ballots and made their way to one of about a dozen private booths to cast their votes for the 2016 election.

A sophomore, Sweid is just 16, like the majority of those who cast ballots here Tuesday.

No, this isn't evidence of election rigging. It's a mock exercise Central students were participating in this week — along with 10 other Champaign County high schools — to give young people an idea of what it's like to vote.

Most aren't old enough to do it for real on Nov. 8, but when the time comes, they'll know what to expect, thanks to the effort coordinated by Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten.

"It was interesting and it made me realize what it's really like in real life," Sweid said. "I'll definitely pay more attention. I didn't know some of the people (on the ballot) and I was really surprised."

The Nov. 8 general election is more than Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, and getting that across to young people was one of the main ideas behind the voting exercise, which was also conducted in the two previous general elections.

"They're looking at the ballot and they're like, 'What's a comptroller?'" Hulten said. "I'd like them to know the amount of research, even if it's passive in terms of consuming news media, that's required to complete a full ballot with some education about the choices they are making."

Senior Aidan Erb-Wilson is one of the students who has kept an eye on the political landscape, both local and national. Unfortunately, his 18th birthday falls on Nov. 10, two days too late to participate in the real deal.

"I really would like to have been able to vote in this election," Erb-Wilson said. "I think the presidential election has kind of taken away from the problems we're having in Springfield with that side of things, so I've been paying as much attention to that as much as I can."

Just like registered voters do in the actual election, students filled in the ovals on their ballots, covered them with a sheet of paper and walked them over to a counting machine, where a judge assisted them in submitting their ballots.

Once done, they received the same "I voted" sticker that's handed out to voters on Election Day.

"I'm grateful for this experience," said 16-year-old sophomore Torious Caston. "I'm most definitely going to vote when I'm 18; it's important."

Another sophomore, An- dy Musquez, learnedhow much privacy is involved. He thought ballots were cast in private rooms, not voting booths.

"I guess it's not as secretive as everyone makes it out to be," he said.

Classmate Stefonce Mof- fatt had the opposite reaction.

"I thought it was going to be at a table and you write it down. I didn't think it was going to be like this," he said. "I like this better, filling in a bubble and not writing a name."

At 15, Musquez is still a few years away from voting. He's already started paying attention to the issues, as he feels a more personal connection to what's happening in Washington.

"I plan to be Marine and my brother is a Marine, so I get to help choose who my boss is," he said.

Students at Central made the trip to the library at various times Tuesday to cast their votes. For the most part, they took it seriously. Even those who are undocumented or aren't U.S. citizens participated.

"They're really into it. It's really great to see them excited about it now, even though they can't vote for a few years," said Central geography and histo- ry teacher Jennifer Swion- tek, who was in charge of the exercise. "A few years from now, they'll be much more knowledgeable and come in with a background of information and who they are as a voter."

Central was one of three schools to vote Tuesday, along with Centennial and Mahomet-Seymour. Mock elections will continue the rest of the week, and the votes will be tabulated and made public by Hulten's office by week's end.

"We're rotating the machines around the different schools," Hulten said. "Each school is its own precinct, and Friday, we'll be able to release results from each school individually, and then we'll do a countywide summary."

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Tags (1):Election 2016
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