2016-11-11 / Schools

Mock election teaches students to become informed voters

By Michael Aushenker


AT THE POLLS—Seventh-grader Isabella Barreras, above, and eighth graders Deivi Mece and Harrison Martin cast their votes on Chromebook computers during a mock election at Sinaloa Middle School in Simi Valley on Monday. 
Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers AT THE POLLS—Seventh-grader Isabella Barreras, above, and eighth graders Deivi Mece and Harrison Martin cast their votes on Chromebook computers during a mock election at Sinaloa Middle School in Simi Valley on Monday. Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers A group of Simi Valley residents cast their ballots for president this week, and they didn’t even need to be 18 years old to do it.

Sinaloa Middle School held a mock election during Monday’s 40-minute lunch break to give its sixth- through eighth-graders a taste of democracy in action.

“In five or six years, most of our students will be of voting age,” said Sinaloa Principal Diana Janke. “What a wonderful opportunity to help them learn about the process.”

“Civic engagement and involvement is (crucial) in a democratic society,” history teacher Sarah Gerfen added. “The trend, over the past few decades, has been a decrease in the participation of eligible voters. (Through this) mock election, we are hoping to inspire a generation of voters . . . to influence change, rather than to continue the voter apathy that (plagues) our nation.”

Yet in a reflection of the very “voter apathy” Gerfen described, only a nominal segment of Sinaloa’s 913-person student body—320 teens—participated in the ersatz political process.

Anatomy of a mock election

Gerfen and fellow educator Jennifer Healy, who teaches English, were inspired to hold a mock election at Sinaloa after attending the Los Angeles County Office of Education-sponsored California Civic Learning Institute for K-12 Educators over the summer. The two were introduced to ProCon.org, a website explaining where presidential candidates —Republican Donald Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton, Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein — stood on various issues.

Although it was originally set for October, Sinaloa’s faux voting was instead rescheduled for the actual U.S. election week.

“We figured (the students) can watch the returns come in that day to see if our school voted like the country votes,” Healy said.

The mock election took place at 11 “polling stations” peppered across campus. Thirteen faculty members sacrificed their lunch break to function as poll workers.

After checking in, Sinaloa students received sheets presenting the positions of the four candidates on issues in the form of questions, with columns explaining whether each candidate was pro or con. Questions included: “Should women be allowed to serve in military combat positions?,” “Should the death penalty be allowed?” and “Are Common Core standards good for education?”

“The way we are formatting this election is with a ‘blind ballot,’” Gerfen said. “None of the candidates’ names (or parties) appear anywhere on the ballot.

“We want to teach them about examining (issues and candidate goals), not just voting for a party or a candidate’s popularity. We want to teach them that it’s not just about voting, it’s about being an informed voter.”

Let the voting begin

“One good thing out of this election is kids are . . . more in tune and aware of the presidential candidates because ‘Saturday Night Live’ has made it so entertaining,” said Adena Surabian, Sinaloa mom and school library volunteer.

Many Sinaloa kids voting Monday weighed the issues in serious fashion.

For eighth-grader Nikhita Sundarapandian, 13, the questions “Should colleges/universities use gender and race to influence admission?” and “Is Obamacare (affordable health care) good for America?” motivated her vote.

Her friend, fellow eighth-grader Shreya Agarwal, wanted to express her opinion on whether public colleges and universities should be tuition-free.

“I want to vote when I am eligible and this is good practice,” the 13-year-old said.

Seventh-grader Liam Alvin, 12, put much thought into his ballot sheet before casting his vote. His biggest concern: seeing the legal drinking age fall below 21.

“I feel that if it gets any lower, it will cause more car accidents,” said Liam, who also favored stricter gun control laws.

After voting for their unnamed candidate via Google Forms on Chromebooks, exiting students received an “I Voted” sticker.

And the winner is . . .

By Tuesday morning, Sinaloa’s ballot results arrived: Clinton won the mock election by a whopping 41.9 percent of the 320 votes, followed by Johnson with 24.1 percent. Trump snagged 21.6 percent. Stein placed fourth with 12.5 percent.

Gerfen hopes such exercises will create more voters by 2020.

“Teaching them how to be a critical thinker and active citizen will hopefully create a brighter future for all,” she said.

While turnout at Sinaloa was low, one thing was certain: More students appeared at the polls late in the lunch hour. Apparently, they didn’t want to vote on an empty stomach.

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