Mock election helps Nome students — and their parents — prepare for the real thing

“I Voted” stickers at the polls in Nome, August 19, 2014.

“I Voted” stickers at the polls in Nome, August 19, 2014. (Photo by Matthew F. Smith/KNOM)

Americans must be 18 to vote in the general election, but that didn’t stop the students at Nome-Beltz High School from getting involved in the democratic process on Tuesday. Social studies teachers Devin Tatro and Michael Hoyt organized a mock election to get students voting.

The classroom was set up as close to possible as a real polling place. Students sign in with a student volunteer, take one of the sample ballots printed from the Division of Elections website, and walk to homemade voting booths constructed of red, white and blue construction paper in the back of the room.

But Tuesday’s mock elections weren’t meant for students just to play or pretend. Before students went to their makeshift polls, Tatro asked them if their parents voted or if they had ever gone to vote with their parents. Not many hands went up. For many, this was their first experience at anything remotely resembling a polling place.

“My main objective is to demystify the process of voting, which I think happened for a few students,” Tatro said. “I had a few students say, ‘Wow. That’s so much easier than I thought it would be! I got this.’ I had a few 18-year-old students, too, who had felt really nervous about voting, and then after class today they said, ‘OK, I’m going to (vote) after school now, I know what I’m doing.’”

In the days leading up to the 2018 general election on Tuesday, students spent time researching the candidates on third-party websites, the candidates’ own campaign sites, and different campaign commercials. The high schoolers spent time researching Ballot Measure 1 (otherwise known as the “Stand for Salmon” ballot initiative), and middle schoolers were encouraged to ask them for information as they prepared to cast their ballot.

According to Tatro, for some students it was more than just a school affair.

“I’ve had some kids tell me, ‘I told my parent who they should vote for,’ or ‘My parent asked me who they should vote for,’ and they talked about it.”

Election results at Nome-Beltz, like actual returns in the Bering Strait region, added up a bit differently than around the rest of the state. Beltz students elected Democrat Mark Begich for governor and independent Alyse Galvin to the U.S. House of Representatives, and they said “yes” on Ballot Measure 1.

There’s no word yet on whether mock elections will be a regular event at the high school, but this year saw 146 young people cast their ballot at Nome-Beltz. Just like adult Alaskan voters, they got to walk away with one of the specially-designed cartoon “I Voted” stickers — and a little donut treat.

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