Students among thousands voting on races, issues

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Students at Giaudrone Middle School in Tacoma have spent the week learning about civic responsibility.

Thursday morning, they got a chance to practice it.

They are among thousands of students statewide taking part in a mock election, sponsored by the Secretary of State’s Office.

“I like how they let students vote,” said eighth-grader Carsen Tice, moments after casting his ballot online. “It was hard to choose.”

All week, students at Giaudrone have been researching candidates and ballot issues in preparation for the day when they will be able to make their choices count.

Students had a chance to vote on candidates for president and Washington governor. They also voted on three state ballot measures: Initiative 1240, on charter schools; Referendum 74, on same-sex marriage; and Initiative 502, on legalized marijuana use.

“When I was researching, I thought, ‘Oh wow. Obama thinks this. But Romney thinks that,’” said sixth-grader Maliyah Sek. “A few of the questions were difficult. I couldn’t really decide.”

One lesson she will take away from her week of election studies: “I learned how the two sides have to combine and work together to make this a good country.”

Humanities teacher Treava Burgess said teachers were excited to funnel some of the frenzy of a presidential election into their classrooms. With the help of a curriculum and materials provided through the Secretary of State’s Office, teachers guided students through some of the same big national issues that adult voters are debating: taxes, health care, immigration, education, foreign policy. She said teachers have been careful to present arguments from both sides of the issues, and have encouraged students to discuss issues with their parents.

Students also studied candidate websites and watched a version of CNN News designed for children.

“This is an eye-opener for them,” Burgess said. “They are going home, asking questions.”

They also learned about the three branches of government, the electoral college and the White House.

Burgess, a former White House employee, was able to give students an insider’s view of the government’s executive branch. She worked in the West Wing during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, as part of his domestic policy staff.

Humanities teacher Sue Gregory said she wanted students to understand “how important it is to become informed citizens.”

Students had to determine which online sources they could rely on for credible information. They discovered how easy it is to stumble upon a website that appears legitimate but is fake.

“We talked about who made the website, and what was their purpose,” Gregory said.

Now in its ninth year, Washington’s student mock election has proved popular.

Four years ago, more than 18,000 Washington students participated. Even though last year was a non-presidential year, about 13,000 kids voted through the program.

Based on the number of “I Voted” stickers – the same ones adult voters receive – that teachers across the state have requested, elections officials are predicting a potential turnout of about 25,000 students this year.

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