Lessons in Democracy: Election is a Learning Opportunity for Students

Students at Merrill Middle School took part in a nation-wide mock election via an online voting system.

Monday was Election Day at Merrill Middle School and turnout was extremely high.

Merrill Humanities teacher Dave O’Connor is coordinating the school’s participation in a mock election program sponsored by the Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI), a national civic education program based at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. With approximately one million students expected to vote nationwide during the voting period from October 22-November 1, the YLI Mock Election is the largest secure, student-only online mock election in the nation. 

“This is an outstanding and authentic learning experience for our students,” O’Connor said. “They’ve been closely following polling in the battleground states and have a keen awareness of the electoral map.  They are excited about this opportunity to model the ultimate right and responsibility of citizenship in a democracy—voting.”

The excitement was clear as the student-voters filed into the library where a bank of online voting booths was in place. In addition to the presidential contest the local congressional district race was also included on the ballot. Within minutes entire classes had logged in, made their selections, gotten their hands stamped to attest that they’d voted, grabbed a campaign sticker of their choice and were on their way back to their regular classrooms. Election observers described the process as a very efficient and orderly model of democracy in action.

A national research study conducted by University of Virginia found that “students in classes where teachers used the YLI Mock Election and the related lesson plans reported a higher tendency towards future political participation,” according to UVA Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato.

Merrill is one of several DMPS schools using the 2012 election as a lesson in democracy for students.

More than 1,200 students at East, Lincoln and North high schools participated in the Polk County Auditor’s mock election. Students showed strong support for the incumbent President, with Barack Obama receiving 85.3% of the vote at East, 73.36% at Lincoln and 85.6% at North.

Even younger students are getting an early dose of democracy. Students at South Union Elementary recently held a mock election, but are saving the announcement of their results until Election Day. Phillips Elementary students have also been busy learning about the upcoming election in their classrooms. After a school wide effort that included voter registration, campaign posters, and even a visit by Betsy Ross, students will cast their ballots on Thursday, November 1st. And on Election Day, 5th graders at Garton Elementary School will have a lesson in everything from the Electoral College to patriotic songs before voting in the school’s mock election.

Results at Merrill will be available the morning of Monday, November 5, 2012, Election Eve for the fully enfranchised. O’Connor said one of the state of the art features of the YLI system allows for disaggregation of the overall nationwide results by individual school, even down to the level of grade-by-grade.

Hmm – no telephone polling, no negative advertising, no pundits, and no two billion dollar campaign price tag. Maybe the process isn’t quite as authentic as O’Connor claims, but it certainly IS a good model!

Photos of the Merrill Middle School Mock Election

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