Civic engagement became a hands-on activity at Olinda Elementary School on Tuesday when students participated in a school-wide mock election.
The idea came to Olinda four years ago. Farnaz Heydari, who teaches fourth and fifth grades, said she saw an article in a teacher’s trade magazine about the National Mock Election and though the process would be an ideal way for students to see democracy in action.
Heydari organized the effort, providing paper ballots and roping the student council into being poll workers for the day.
Students participated in the entire democratic process including registering to vote, discussing key issues, casting a paper ballot and even receiving their “I voted” sticker.
Students voted with two ballots, one sponsored by the Secretary of State and one sponsored by the Pearson Foundation.
About 1,300 elementary, middle and high schools statewide signed up to participate in the “MyVote California Student Mock General Election” sponsored by the California Secretary of State’s office, said Shannan Velayas, a spokesperson for the office.
Velayas said the mock election has been held every year since 2004 and the results allow Californians to see where students in the state stand on a variety of issues including the presidential and senate race and the 11 state propositions.
Founded in 1980, the My Voice National Student Mock election, sponsored by the Pearson Foundation, is the world’s largest national mock election according to the foundation website.
On the ballot, students were asked to vote for a candidate for president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives and on five issues — the economy, education, energy, environment, healthcare and the national debt.
Fifth grade teacher Ron Kresch said he had an animated 30-minute discussion with his class about the election, which included conversations about political parties, who can vote and briefly what each issue entailed.
“Many students were surprised to know there were more than two people running for president,” he said.
Kresch said many of the issues were too complex for his students to understand, but the process did illustrate the amount of work it takes to be an informed voter.
“This is how we grow informed voters,” he said. “These were great discussions that we don’t get to have often enough.”
In Mr. Ryder’s sixth grade class, opinions about voting were mixed. Some students thought the process was cool and made them think about issues affecting the country.
But others, like Devin Walker, said he felt as though it doesn’t matter if you vote, especially for president.
“They don’t have a magic wand,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who gets elected because neither one is going to be able to fix things.”
Olinda Elementary School Principal Lanre Olanrewaju said a lot of student voter opinions are formed because of things heard at home and this election, she said, parents, especially those in the minority, are frustrated.
“I think they’re deflated and they’re passing it along to their kids,” she said. “Exposing them to this is a good process.”
The concept of voter apathy in youth is nothing new, but just four years after the youth vote turned out in record numbers for President Obama, a Pew Research study released in September shows younger voters are less engaged.
According to the study, 18 percent of voters under 30 are following campaign news closely, down from 35 percent four years ago.
In Pew Research Center polling conducted during 2012, only half of adults under 30 say they are absolutely certain that they are registered to vote.
This compares with 61 percent in 2008 and 57 percent in 2004.
Heydari said the mock election process brings the curriculum to life.
“They have their opinions and this is a venue for them to be heard,” she said. “If we don’t educate our kids at this age then they’ll grow up to be uninformed.”
The Secretary of State will be reporting results of its election today. Pearson’s mock election is open through 8 p.m. on Friday.