Today@Sam Article

LEAP Ambassadors Offer Lessons On Civic Engagement Through Mock Election

Nov. 8, 2016
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

Story by Mike Yawn.

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LEAP Ambassador president Alejandra Galvan leads a conversation with Stewart Elementary second grade teachers Amy Gilcrease's and Erica Trube's classes before the students voted in a mock election. The event was set up by Galvan in fulfillment of the requirements of the Civic Ambassador Program, to which Galvan was named by the Annette Strauss institute earlier this year. Only seven students across the state were selected for the program. —All photos by Mike Yawn

The voters arrived in droves. 

Some entered shaking their heads and bemoaning the lack of quality candidates in this year’s election. Several voters even turned in blank ballots, with the words “No One” written down, as if to punctuate their unhappiness with the choices.  Most, however, happily voted for their preferred candidate and moved on to the rest of their day.

Such sentiments may be common on Election Day, but this was an unusual election process by any standard.  The voters were 6 to 10 years old, and they were participating in a “Mock Election” partnership between Stewart Elementary and Sam Houston State University’s Center for Law, Engagement and Politics.

The project was spearheaded by SHSU criminal justice major Alejandra Galvan, president of the LEAP Ambassadors. 

Earlier this year, she was named a Texas Civic Ambassador by the Annette Strauss Institute. As one of only seven students chosen statewide to “encourage more young people to get involved in the civic life of their communities and on their college campuses,” she initiated the “Mock Election” project in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Civic Ambassador Program.

“We wanted the event to be fun and educational for the students,” Galvan said.  “It’s a great town-and-gown partnership that, we hope, benefitted the students.”

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Gavin Neal and AA’Miayah Cottrell got into the spirit of "election day," casting their votes and wearing their "I Voted" stickers proudly. The results of the Stewart Elementary vote resulted in a Hillary Clinton win, with 63.6 percent of the vote 

It also benefitted the volunteers, who prepared ahead of time to communicate with young children. 

“The process,” Galvan said, “involved simplifying complex processes such that small children could understand.”

The SHSU students worked with staff from Stewart Elementary—most notably Lisa Gregg and Charity Joseph—to educate young people on the process of voting and electoral procedures.

In all, 23 teachers participated in the program.  They provided information about political processes ahead of “election day” and brought their students to the Stewart Elementary library on Nov. 1, where additional information was provided by the LEAP Ambassadors. 

The ambassadors spent much time on “fun facts” about the presidents, and the first-through-fourth graders proved knowledgeable about the basics.  They knew, for example, the first president, the current president, the current presidential candidates, and even the tallest president.

One student surprised everyone with information about Zachary Taylor; another showed off her knowledge of John Quincy Adams.

They were less certain on the requirements for the presidency.  When asked where a person needs to be born if they wanted to be elected U.S. President, one student replied, “In a hospital.” 

Another student, when asked the minimum age required for election to the presidency, responded with, “Seven.”  Not coincidentally, the student was 7 years old.

For the mock election, the ballots were kept simple.  To avoid confusion and information overload, only the presidential race was included on the ballot, and only the Democratic and Republican parties’ nominees were listed. 

For the first and second grade students—some of whom had trouble with reading—photos of the candidates were included on the ballot.

The students were also taught the requirements for voting.  Most students knew that you had to be 18 to be able to vote, and the LEAP Ambassadors helpfully noted that you couldn’t have your phone out or bring a weapon to the polling place—hoping, of course, that the latter would not be an issue on Mock Election Day.

For the most part, the rules were obeyed. 

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First grade teacher Alba Miller's ESL class also participated in the activity. 

One student, however, was caught with a sign pushing his own candidacy (“Vote for Isiah”).  Another was caught discouraging votes for a candidate he found disagreeable. 

But these issues were rare and were quickly dispatched with a “shhhh.”  The occasional presence of interim Principal Jana Bethel kept students vigilant and on good behavior.

In general, excitement ruled the day.

Each student received an “I Voted” sticker, and they proudly displayed these stickers—on their chests, hands, and, occasionally, on their noses and foreheads.  Their post-election walk to their classrooms frequently involved chants of “I voted,” although these chants were quickly quieted by assertive teachers.

Assertiveness was needed to accommodate the logistics of the day.  Students voted in waves of 30-50, with each wave receiving a 10-15 minute civics lesson and “election training,” followed by an efficient voting process.

As with an actual election, each student was given a ballot, a writing instrument, and the privacy of voting behind a trifold. 

Rather than submit their ballots to an electronic voting machine, students deposited their ballots in an old-fashioned ballot box, suitably adorned with red, white, and blue décor.  Over the course of four hours, 410 students voted.

“We do our best to offer an innovative curriculum, and the Mock Election is part of that process,” Bethel said. “We’re excited our students had a chance to learn with this topical experiential-learning process.”

It might be noted that Hillary Clinton won the Stewart Elementary Mock Election, garnering 63.6 percent of the vote to Donald Trump’s 36.4 percent of the vote.

Experiential learning is one of the key components of the LEAP Center’s mission.  The eight LEAP Ambassadors have participated in more than 30 civic programs this semester, and the mock election was just one of several election-related programs they have offered. 

Their engagement in the electoral cycle will culminate in January 2017, when they will attend the 58th Presidential Inauguration.  It is the fourth consecutive inauguration the ambassadors will attend. 

More information on the LEAP Ambassadors’ activities can be found at leapatshsu.com.  

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