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Clayton students cast
ballots in mock election

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The voting line at Jackson Elementary School on Monday resembled a smaller version of what Clayton County saw during weeks of early and advanced voting, and what may be a recurring theme today at the polls.

The difference between Monday's voting line, and the other voting lines, which made headlines in recent weeks, is the people casting ballots at Jackson Elementary School were between the ages of 5 and 10. They were participating in the school system's mock presidential election.

The line for students stretched out of Jackson Elementary's library. It then curved and started to head down a hallway as fourth-graders waited to make a choice: Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain.

Nearly 50,000 Students -- at every school in the county -- participated in the district's mock election as the culmination of a month-long push to teach pupils about the presidential-election process. The election is being done electronically, with students voting through a special feature on the district's web site.

The results of the mock election will be posted tonight at 10 p.m., on the web site.

"This is the first district-wide presidential election we've done," said Michael Powell, the district's coordinator for secondary social studies. "In the past, a few schools have done mock elections, but we wanted to make it a district-wide event, so every child in the county had an opportunity to participate in this history-making election, while also learning about the election process."

If Obama is elected, he would be the first African-American president. If McCain wins the election, his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, would be the first female vice president.

While the results of this mock election will not have an effect on who will be the next leader of the United States, many students said they still felt as if they had a part in history. Students at Jonesboro High School went to the school's computer lab during their social studies class.

"As a student in high school, it [voting in the mock election] shows I care about the process and what happens to this country during the next four years," said Andy Jairan, 17, a junior at Jonesboro High School moments after casting his "vote" for Obama.

The importance of the presidential election was not lost on the younger students, either. Jackson Elementary fourth-grader Kiana Brown, 9, also cast her vote for Obama. She feels Obama would bring dramatic changes to the country. "He will help the economy, and make the gas prices go down," said Brown.

While the mock election was designed to be the culmination of a month of studying presidential politics, there is still room to grow in terms of students becoming educated voters. One student at Jonesboro High School marched down a hallway at the school, proudly proclaiming "I voted for Osama! I voted for Osama!" while others in the hallway shook their heads and giggled.

"This mock election has shown how uneducated some people are about this election," said Lindsay Snipes, 17, a senior "poll worker" at Jonesboro High School. "They keep coming up and asking, 'I don't know who I should vote for; what's the difference between the candidates?' and it's like, 'Really? All you have to do is turn on the TV and you can tell the difference between McCain and Obama."

However, not all of the students were satisfied with the mock election. While Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr is the only other presidential candidate on the ballot in Georgia, Clayton County students were not given an opportunity to vote for him. He was not listed as an option for the pupils.

"We've had a few people asking 'Where's Bob Barr?' or 'Where's the other guy?'" said Snipes.

Some students refused to vote when they discovered Barr was not listed. Meanwhile, other students, like Jonesboro High School senior, Amy Toale, 18, voted for the candidate which they felt best espoused Libertarian ideals as a compromise. For Toale, that meant voting for McCain in the mock election, because "he's in favor of smaller government," but she plans to vote for Barr today in the official election.

"I think [Barr's omission is] kind of stupid because they talk about kids not being educated [about the political process], but then they don't list all of the candidates," said Toale. "People went with third parties because they were not satisfied with the mainstream political parties."

District Spokesman Charles White said Barr was not offered as a choice because the district wanted to focus on the "major parties," and "if we included [Barr], we'd have to include the candidates from all the other third parties, like the Green Party."