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High school students vote to become involved in the election

Senior Katy Schmelzer 17 lets her friends know she voted Friday during mock electionJacobs High School Algonquin.
November  2 2012

Senior Katy Schmelzer, 17, lets her friends know she voted Friday during a mock electionat Jacobs High School in Algonquin. November 2, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 6, 2012 6:13AM

ALGONQUIN — The freshmen in English teacher Brad Clark’s advisory period at Harry D. Jacobs High School are staunch Green Party backers. That, or Democrats.

That’s according to

The class had worked together through the questions on the website’s presidential election quiz during their advisory period Thursday, Clark said.

For the most part, he recounted the class’s views Friday, “You guys tended to be more progressive or liberal on social issues, right?” Most students raised their hands again in support of gay marriage, while only two boys raised their hands as pro-choice.

But in the end, their results were split: They sided 78 percent with Green Party candidate Jill Stein and 78 percent with President Barack Obama, a Democrat, according to the teacher. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came in third with 37 percent, which surprised Clark.

For one, he said, 14-year-old Kyle Ross of Algonquin had “led the tea party revolt” during the class.

“Cut it. No more. We’re already trillions of dollars in debt,” Kyle said.

And students’ handmade posters that were stuck to lockers around the school and to a bulletin boards in the lunchroom Friday were split in their support: There were posters that promised, “Obama: Check Yes! He will give you hope!” and “Vote for Romney! He’ll give you the jobs you need!”

There was a cartoon of Obama running from a clock that said, “Obama is running out of time. Tick tock. Too late. Nothing has changed. Vote Romney.” And there was a cartoon of Romney clutching bags of money: “Mr. Moneybags can’t buy your vote.”

High school students across Kane and McHenry counties — most of whom are too young yet to vote — are interested in the presidential election Tuesday. They’re even more interested than they were in the election four years ago, according to teachers at Jacobs High School in Algonquin, which spans both counties.

“This is more polarized. The last one was more one-sided. Everyone was on the Obama bandwagon,” said Steve Wallace, a social studies teacher at Jacobs.

And they’re getting involved, whether that’s through the mock election this past week at Jacobs or the student election judge program through their county clerk’s office — or just “talking smack” about the candidates at school, Clark said.

Mock election

As a physical education class was dismissed and streamed past the bank of laptop computers on which Jacobs students cast their ballots in the school’s mock election Friday, one boy in a gray gym suit shouted, “Vote for Obama!”

Clark, collecting exit poll data nearby, shouted back, “Hey, no electioneering!”

The idea for the mock election came from a group of math, English and social studies teachers over lunch, discussing ways to get students more involved in the election, he said. And it snowballed, he said, when math and computer science teacher Kevin Christian said he could design a computerized ballot.

That ballot, actually designed by 17-year-old senior Cam Bodie of Algonquin, allowed students to choose either Obama or Romney and could disaggregate voter demographics by gender and ethnicity, Clark said. (Of course, after discussing all the candidates and their views in class, he said, “Third-party candidates are the big thing.”)

Of more than 2,200 students at the high school, 1,409 voted Thursday and Friday in the mock election, according to the teacher.

And the results, he said, were similar to recent polls he’d read: Obama won with 63 percent of the vote. The president did better with female students (66.4 percent) than with male (59.6 percent) and with black (89.4) and Hispanic (86) students than white (55.6).

Nearly 89 percent of students also indicated they plan to vote when they turn 18.

Junior Nicole Miller, 16, of West Dundee said as she left the polls Friday that she had voted for Romney because she liked his five-point plan to create jobs that her parents had explained to her. Like most students had reported in the exit poll during the first lunch period Friday, she said the economy was the most important issue to her in the election.

“My opinion may sound like a biased opinion, but my dad is really good at the economy, and I trust his opinion,” Nicole said.

Student election judges

At least one Jacobs student will be at an actual polling place Tuesday.

Student election judge

Senior Niall Clarke of West Dundee isn’t old enough to vote. He’s 17. But Niall completed the two-hour training session through the McHenry County Clerk’s Office about two weeks ago to be a student election judge.

That means he’ll be manning polls from 5 a.m. to about 7 p.m. on Election Day, he said. That includes setting up the polling place, processing voters, making sure it’s a fair and impartial election, and tallying the reporting at the end of the day, according to the application from the clerk’s office.

“It’s cool to learn about it — and also, they pay you,” Niall said.

Illinois Election Code was amended to allow student election judges within the past eight years, according to Kane County Clerk John Cunningham.

Juniors and seniors with at least a 3.0 grade point average can apply to be judges in their counties, according to the application. They must be a U.S. citizen by Election Day and get permission from a parent, principal and teacher not only to be a judge but also to take that day off school, it said.

About 60 students have signed up to be judges in Kane County, Cunningham said. McHenry County Clerk Katherine Schultz said Friday she was unsure how many students, like Niall, had signed up in her county.

But, Schultz said, those students “invigorate the whole thing.”

“They’re younger, they have more energy; and really with the equipment we use nowadays — we have touch screens and laptop computers at polling places — these kids are so much more adept at these functions.”

Most election judges, she said, “do tend to be more of a senior citizen, probably because they’ve got the time to do it.”

Niall said already he’s learned a lot that most people probably don’t know about voting.

He’s not “completely into politics,” he said, but he’s watched a couple of the presidential debates. He talks about it with his friends at school, he said, and they all cast their ballots Thursday in the mock election at Jacobs.

His went to Obama.

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