By Jessica Sorensen
More than 1,000 students participated in a hands-on voting experience at Wellington Landings Middle School on Thursday, Nov. 1, when the school held a mock election in coordination with civics lessons that focused on many of the issues involved.
The students voted on laptops. Surrounded by privacy screens, they selected their choices via multiple choice. Once they completed the voting process, the students received an “I Voted” sticker. The process took about 60 seconds per student. On the ballot were races for U.S. Senator, Florida Governor and several ballot questions.
The teacher behind this hands-on event was Miguel Torregrosa, who created a joint partnership between the civics courses and the Student Government Association.
“This is a hands-on activity just like a true polling experience. It gets the students excited to have their voices heard,” Torregrosa said.
The students were sent home with both a sample ballot and a permission slip for their parents to approve and review with them.
The activity was able to be tied in with Florida benchmarks in regard to the election process. While the SGA was in charge of putting together ballots, PowerPoint presentations and posters, the civics courses integrated the information into the classroom and relayed it to the students.
In class, students were educated through PowerPoint slides put together by the SGA. The slides provided information on all the candidates and amendments they would be voting on.
The PowerPoint discussed senatorial candidates U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Gov. Rick Scott (R). It also provided information on gubernatorial candidates Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) and former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R), focusing on their experience and their stance on economic issues, education and healthcare.
Wellington Councilwoman Tanya Siskind showed support for the program, saying that she supports programs educating students on government.
“The program will absolutely make students more likely to vote in the future with educated opinions.” Siskind said.
Siskind’s daughter, Scarlett Siskind, took part in the mock election.
Scarlett said that she reviewed each candidate and amendment with her mother prior to voting. “It is important to know what you are voting for and not to throw away your vote,” she said.
Scarlett added that she is more likely to vote because of the experience and that the entire process was simple.
While all grades voted for U.S. Senator and Governor, there were some variations among the grades. The sixth graders voted for speaker of the house and on whether or not to provide Palm Beach County schools additional funding. The seventh graders voted for Florida Amendment 6, Amendment 7 and Amendment 9, while the eighth graders voted for the theme of their upcoming school dance.
This was the first year completing the mock election on laptops rather than pen and paper. By completing their voting on computers, the results can be viewed in real time.
The students had a positive reaction to the mock election and generally felt it improved their knowledge on the voting experience. Many of the students were eager to discuss the process of gaining information on candidates and voting.
Among them was seventh grader Emilia McGovern. McGovern’s father, John McGovern, is a Wellington councilman. McGovern said that to prepare for voting, she discussed the sample ballot with her parents and reviewed the PowerPoint in her civics class.
“The process was easy, and I gained knowledge from the experience,” she said.
Some students claimed that to prepare they simply followed advertisements for the amendments on television. Some explained that they adopted their parents’ views.
Seventh grader Ammar Qasem invested a lot of time into making sure his vote counted. “I went over the sample ballots with my parents, but I wanted to make my own decision,” he said.
Qasem also watched and analyzed a debate, taking notes on what each candidate said. “Voting was easy. Preparing to vote was the difficult part,” he said.
The mock election encouraged students to become educated on the issues at hand. The final results for the mock election were as follows:
Eighth graders chose Rick Scott for U.S Senator with 50.9 percent of the vote and Andrew Gillum for Governor with 59.1 percent of the vote. They also voted yes on Amendment 9 with 66.7 percent support and yes on the county school question with 83.7 percent support.
Seventh graders chose Bill Nelson for U.S Senator with 52.7 percent of the vote and Andrew Gillum for Governor with 58.1 percent of the vote. The also voted yes on Amendment 7 with 54.9 percent support, yes on Amendment 6 with 58.9 percent support and yes on the county school question with 80.3 percent support.
Sixth graders chose Rick Scott for U.S Senator with 51.7 percent of the vote and Andrew Gillum for Governor with 58.1 percent of the vote. They also favored the county school question with 86.7 percent support.