Mock election gives Leyden students voting experience
East Leyden High School students line up to take part in a mock election. Students could choose both presidential as well as local candidates. | Contributed photo
Updated: November 13, 2012 9:17AM
FRANKLIN PARK — More than 2,000 Leyden School District 212 social studies students voted in mock elections designed to provide a life-like experience of going to the polls.
The mock election days, held on Oct. 21 at East Leyden and Oct. 26 at West Leyden, were part of a civics lesson intended to generate discussions about the reasons students choose particular candidates.
“We wanted them to discuss why they voted the way they did and share their feelings about what it was like going to the voting booth,” said Chuck Skrabacz, Leyden social studies department chairman. “Teachers asked questions about what made them vote for a certain candidate when they went into the polls not knowing who they were going to vote for.”
The elections were made to be as real as possible, with student volunteers working as election judges. Twelve old polling place booths, donated by Cook County, were set up for students to vote in.
The post-election classroom discussions revealed most students did not know where the presidential candidates stood on important issues. Most had no interest in state and local issues or who was running for those positions.
“They didn’t care much about the local elections and just knew about bits and pieces of the presidential stuff,” Skrabacz said. “Most students knew it was Obama versus Romney, but beyond that, they were unable to discuss a lot of the issues.”
After the elections, teachers and students discussed the different factors that influenced voting choices, such as the media, campaign signs, or their parents’ and classmates’ beliefs.
Obama was the clear winner at both schools, winning 80 percent of the vote at East Leyden and 85 percent of the vote at West Leyden. Romney had 15 percent of the vote at East and 9 percent at West.
But rather than voting based on the issues, Skrabacz believes students tended to choose the candidate that seemed most popular among their peers.
“Obama is generally better known than other candidates, and the younger students also have the tendency to vote for liberal policies,” Skrabacz said. “I think there’s a group mentality thing happening where voting for Obama is probably the cooler thing to do, whereas voting for Romney is probably not as cool.”
Laura Sevilla, a West Leyden junior and member of the history honors society, volunteered as an election judge. She thought most of her classmates seemed interested in voting.
“I think (holding the elections) was an awesome idea because it gives people who can’t vote yet an idea of what to expect, and it shows that your vote really does count,” Sevilla said. “Some students didn’t get the whole purpose of it, but I think most of them were into it.”
The 5th District Congressional candidates and the Senate and House races were also added to the ballots, but those votes were still being tallied.
“We put the ballot together in a way where we could have more discussion about the election being more than just about the presidential vote,” Skrabacz said. “We wanted to point out that there are local and state issues too and find out if there was any interest there.”