By Marjorie Nesin Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — MANCHESTER — What would happen if kids could vote?
Students of all ages a Manchester’s Memorial Elementary School had their voting voice heard as classes filed into the library to fill out and drop their ballots into a box for the school’s mock election. And President Barack Obama, garnering 278 votes, pulled it out ahead of Republican Mitt Romney, who captured 185 votes in the students’ race, school librarian Samantha Silag said.
But, Silag said, the election was less about choosing a winner than about teaching the kids about the civic duty of voting, and it was a lesson many of the students took seriously and learned well.
“It’s been a great opportunity for us to think about the core values, like respect and responsibility,” Silag said. “Just so they understand voting is really a privilege and a time to show they are respectful people.”
The older children at school got a taste of politics and national issues, too.
As fifth-grade teacher Joe McDonough lined his class up at the library door — labeled “polling place” — McDonough explained that, on each day leading up to the election, his class had learned about an issue, then — not knowing which candidate coincided with which side of the issue — chose a side. Afterwards, McDonough revealed the candidate that supported each side.
“Then they had to decide which issues are most important to them and which candidate matches those most frequently,” McDonough said.
His fifth graders climbed step stools up to the town’s official booths, coloring in the circle next to the photo and name of their carefully chosen candidate.
Fifth grader Lars Arntsen settled into a library bean bag chair with a new book after voting. Lars said that, after weighing each candidate’s values, he chose the one whose ideals best match his own.
“I was going back and forth with one who’s really good with the economy and the other really good with education. So I went for the one who’s good with education,” Lars said. “I feel like a grownup. It’s cool.”
Jessica Dunn and Mia Cromwell dropped their ballots in the box and accepted their “I voted, kids vote, too” stickers.
Both fifth graders had a pretty good idea of which candidate they favored all along, they said. Jessica said she felt prepared to vote because of everything she learned in school about the election. Mia said her voting inspiration stemmed from her education too.
“I learned partially from my parents, but after I really thought about it I still wanted to vote for the same person, but for my own reasons,” Mia said.
The pre-kindergartners, meanwhile, voted for their favorite cartoon characters, as a simplified version of the election. In that race, SpongeBob beat Dora the Explorer on an 11-6 vote.
Some of the older students joked they would have rather voted in the pre-kindergartners’ SpongeBob vs. Dora race, since they disliked both presidential candidates. But others found the choice much more clear cut, absolutely supporting one candidate and decrying another.
“I am voting for Obama because he doesn’t lie like Mitt Romney,” third grader Matthew Puchniak said.
Another third grader, Matthew Blackman, found himself on the opposing side.
“I knew we couldn’t afford four more years with Obama,” he said.
For some kids, even as the time to vote approached, still wavered between candidates. Third grader Gus Brown stood at the booth for a few minutes, running a hand through his hair, and tapping his pencil on the ballot while he tried to decide before shading in an oval.
“I just couldn’t think either if I wanted to stay with a good president or give Mitt Romney a chance,” Gus said before finally choosing Obama.
“It took me 20 minutes, because that’s a hard choice,” he said, pondering the length of the presidential term. “It’s four years — I’ll be 12.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.