November 7, 2002

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Hagan wins governor’s race in landslide—
McKinney students head to polls in mock election

Seventh-grade student Miriam Barcus cast her vote during the mock gubernatorial election at the McKinney School Tuesday

As voter turnout in Tuesday’s general election was expected to drop nationwide, McKinney School students did something that could help encourage greater voter participation for their generation. During the two weeks leading up to Election Day, the seventh and eighth graders led political campaigns to convince their classmates to vote for one of Ohio’s gubernatorial candidates, Bob Taft and Tim Hagan.

Then, row by row on Tuesday, the students in Shawn Jackson’s 8:15 a.m. social studies class took their ballots to the two official voting booths provided by the Clark County Board of Elections and punched a hole in support of their choice for governor.

At the end of the day, voting tallies revealed overwhelming support for Tim Hagan, who won 65 percent of the 119 votes cast by the students. John Eastman, not included in the mock election, received 26 percent and Taft had 9percent. The results will be included in a national tally of junior high Kids Voting results and published on the Kids Voting Web site within the next two weeks.

During the campaign, students in each of Jackson’s six classes divided up into two committees, one for Taft and one for Hagan. The committees elected a chair and designated groups to research candidate profiles on the Web, make signs and posters, create video advertisements and give speeches in support of their candidate.

Clever posters lined the walls of the McKinney annex reading, “Don’t be daft, vote for Taft” and “I’m beggin’ for Hagan.” One poster featured a digital photo of Hagan standing in a pristine woodland and a photo of Taft in a burnt out logged forest. It read: “Hagan cares, Taft doesn’t.”

And the students got to apply some of their video production skills by creating political commercials. One of the TV ads showed a handsome elderly couple, dancing the tango in the Bryan Community Center gymnasium, approach the camera and affirm their support for Bob Taft.

Students practiced collaborating to use artistic, research and communication skills for an interdisciplinary educational experience.

They also learned a little about the drawbacks of politics.

Julia Schenning chaired the Taft committee for her seventh-grade class and had trouble getting her peers to listen and follow the group’s plan. “Just a few years ago, I wanted to become the president of the United States,” Schenning said. “But now if I go into politics, I’d just be the governor because if I had this much trouble motivating just this little group, I probably wouldn’t do that well as president.”

This kind of experience and insight is perhaps what students across the nation will gain by participating in the National Student/Parent Mock Election Project. The program, coordinated by PBS television stations, aims to foster civic participation and encourage kids to become interested in voting. Jackson feels generating interest at an early age is important.

“I want to start initiating voting practices at this age not just as a right, but as a responsibility,” Jackson said.

Students are also encouraged to participate in part of the Kids Voting program which allows parents to bring their children to the polls and vote alongside them at designated polling locations, including those in Yellow Springs. That means some students will get to vote twice in one day, once at school and once with their parents at an official polling site.

Seventh grader Ben Adams began Tuesday by voting at school. “I voted for John Eastman,” Adams said. “I’m not really a Republican, and then I started seeing all this negative campaigning Hagan was doing, so I just voted for Eastman.”

The students decided not to include Eastman in their campaign project because they could not find enough information on the candidate and other logistical reasons. But Jackson included discussions throughout the two-week curriculum about the three independent candidates running for governor.

“It’s good for students to know that anyone can run for office to change things,” Jackson said.

Jackson became a player in the local political world more than a decade ago when he ran for Clark County commissioner. Two years ago he managed Roger Tackett’s state Senate campaign, and last year he ran for school board for a seat on the Southeastern School District school board.

In class, he talks to the students about his experiences. “It really brings the ideas home if you know someone who has run for office and has been involved in campaigns,” Jackson said.

The first mock election Jackson initiated at McKinney was the 1990 gubernatorial race. Every year since then his students have participated in an election, including the 1998 Bush/Gore presidential race and several other senate and congressional races.

Voting, even in a mock election, could teach students important civic lessons and encourage youth to talk to their parents about issues that affect them. Seventh grader Hannah Montgomery planned on going to the polls with her parents Tuesday after school.

“I learned some things about how Hagan supports the forests, and I liked his plan,” she said. “I’ll probably vote for Hagan. My parents are.”


—Lauren Heaton