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Future voters get started early

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CHARLO — Sixth through 12th-grade students lined the interior of Charlo’s school library Friday, eagerly anticipating a mock voting session and cookies and juice boxes awarded to those who’d voted. 

The election was organized by teachers and parents in an effort to create an authentic voting experience during which students could cast their votes for a great many candidates. The ballot included current candidates running for Montana House of Representatives seats, judges, Justice of the Peace, and of course, the presidential race. In addition to Romney and Obama, the younger grades could vote for past presidents.

The ballot read, “If miracles could happen, which one of the following presidents would you want to lead the nation today?” Choices included George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, Nixon and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Volunteers Kacey and Scott Savage instructed students how to fill out the forms while fielding questions regarding the job descriptions of the Secretary of State and Attorney General. Scott said George Washington won the “miracle” vote last year, but “He’s the father of our country; everyone knows him, right?”

“It’s good experience for the kids to see what it’s like to get out there and vote,” Kacey added.

After voting, students made their way to the back of the library where they were offered juice boxes, cookies and an “I voted” sticker.

“They never did any of this while I was in school,” volunteer Carol Fitzpatrick said. 

Fitzpatrick agreed that if our political process included cookies and juice boxes, the United States might see a higher voter turnout. 

Eighth-grader Kane Shenyer said it was a fun exercise and that he’d voted for Romney. 

“I like him better,” Shenyer said. “He seems like he’d be a better leader for the country.”

The majority of students hadn’t received any information about candidates in the classroom, meaning their votes were entirely based on information obtained through the media, political advertising and their parents and friends. However, high school English Teacher Keith Grebetz said he’d tried to prepare his students for voting day. 

During the past few weeks, Grebetz went over candidates’ positions on 25 critical issues facing the nation. These issues ranged from taxes to medicare to stem cell research. After the lessons had concluded and Grebetz had explained Obama and Romney’s positions on various issues, he said the majority of his student’s didn’t want to vote for either candidate. 

“They were both undesirable to (the students,)” he said. “(The students) would say, ‘Do we have to choose between these two?’ Yes, you do. Unfortunately, you have to make a decision between these two candidates, even if you don’t like either of them.”

Once the votes were tabulated, teachers made a large poster to display in the school showing who won the mock election. However, every volunteer agreed that the exercise was about more than who won the mock election — it was about teaching children the power of voting, how it works, what it’s like, and preparing Charlo seniors to vote Nov. 6. 

Grebetz said he had eight seniors who would be voting in this year’s elections. 

“Voting is important,” he said. “But what’s more important is learning how to be a knowledgeable voter.”

Abraham Lincoln won the miracle election regarding past presidents with George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt taking second and third. 

Denny Rehberg won over Jon Tester with 60 percent of the vote while Steve Daines beat Kim Gillan by a nearly identical margin. 

As for our next president, 95 students voted for Mitt Romney, 29 for Barack Obama, and 12 for independents Gary Johnson and James P. Gray.

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