Would we live in a completely different world if the voting age were, say, 13?
On Oct. 23, roughly 230,000 middle- and high-school students at more than 500 schools cast ballots in a statewide mock election held by the California offices of Secretary of State and Superintendent of Schools. Kids were given the chance to vote for candidates in two biggies: governor and U.S. Senate, as well as weigh in on the 13 ballot measures. There was no set lesson plan, said a spokesperson for Secretary of State Bruce McPherson. Rather, teachers were provided with the same information any voter would get, though most relied on the website Easyvoter.org. Last week, the Secretary of State's office started posting results on its website-the “official” tally will be up Nov. 7.
The results, so far, are an interesting snapshot of youth politics. Sure, most of us are liberals until we hit 40 or start making six-figures; still, one might assume the kids would go for Arnold Schwarzenegger-he's got the name recognition, after all. But, as of Oct. 30, Democrat Phil Angelides was the students' preferred choice with 34.55 percent of some 70,000 votes tallied so far. Schwarzenegger, who'll win easily among grown-ups, is, right now, second with the kids, earning 32.57 percent of their votes. Angelides might have had a landslide mock-election victory had it not been for the Peace and Freedom Party's Janice Jordan, a San Diegan who's, so far, garnered 15.75 percent of the vote. If this were the real deal, she'd be making California gubernatorial-election history.
Andrea Morton, a sixth-grade teacher at High Tech Middle Media Arts School in Point Loma, where sixth, seventh and eighth graders cast more than 200 ballots, said students focused on the issues important to them and then looked for candidates who spoke to those issues. They liked what Jordan had to say in her ballot statement: “My passion for social and political issues is to affect positive change in all communities.”
Morton added that her students are strongly opposed to the war in Iraq and perhaps those sentiments drew them away from anyone aligned with the Republican Party. (At High Tech Middle School, Jordan won 17 percent of the votes to Schwarzenegger's 19.6 percent.)
Marilee Gillen, a teacher at Valhalla High School in El Cajon, said her students leaned Peace and Freedom for the party's decriminalization-of-drugs stance. “High school students are always taken by parties that advocate legalization of marijuana, so that would be a big issue for [Jordan's] popularity here.”
As for ballot measures, the students, so far, overwhelmingly favor Prop. 1D, which would provide more than $10 billion in bond proceeds to retrofit schools and relieve classroom overcrowding. They also overwhelmingly favor increasing the cigarette tax by $2.60, some of the money from which would provide healthcare for uninsured kids.
Prop. 85, the ballot measure that would require doctors to notify the parents or guardian of a minor who wants to have an abortion, is pretty evenly split right now with “No” leading by less than one percentage point in the statewide tally. At High Tech Middle School, Prop. 85 passed easily with two-thirds of students voting yes.
“The kids are still very young and they believe in having a good relationship with their parents,” Morton said, adding that it was an issue she felt students could have discussed more at length-they got about an hour to talk in groups about the voting process and the issues on the ballot and then used the “Easy Voter” guide for additional reference.
One of the key things her students learned, Morton said, is the importance of voting. Students from teacher Cady Staff's eighth-grade class organized a presentation for student voters, handing out slips of colored paper to represent the percentages of registered voters who voted in the last major election, registered voters who did not vote and non-registered voters. The kids were surprised, Morton said, “by the [low] percentage of the [adult] population who actually voted.”
Check out the most current results of the student voting project at: