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Students learn early about voting process

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Chelsey Shepard demonstrated her familiarity with touch-screen technology, as she navigated the electronic voting ballot. The 13-year-old could only guess, however, how voters cast their ballots a decade ago.

"They might have voted by paper [ballot]," said Shepard, who took part in a field trip, Tuesday, at the Henry County Elections and Registration Office, in McDonough.

Gerry Miller, information technology analyst for the elections and registration office, said Georgia has had electronic voting since 2002. He helped coordinate the field trip for the eighth-graders from Woodland Middle School.

"I'm surprised at how many young people are interested in the voting process," said Miller, who assists in conducting mock elections for schools throughout the year in Henry County.

Miller noted that the relatively new electronic voting process is particularly user-friendly to youngsters who have been raised on the digital technology which drives the new process.

"We wanted to make sure the young people coming up knew the importance of the voting process," he said. "The voting process is very, very important ... That's the only way they are going to be able to make change in their communities, and in the world as a whole."

Tuesday's field trip involved about 60 students in Nancy Smith's eighth-grade Student Achievement in Gifted Education (SAGE) Program. The students were given a first-hand introduction to the voting process.

"The goal is for the students to learn about citizenship and the democratic process in voting," said Smith. "I wanted to get them involved with the process and see what it looks like. We are going outside of the state standards here," she said. "I wanted them to experience voting. At home, many of them only experience their parents' discussions on voting."

Thirteen-year-old Ericka Davis has limited experience with the voting process. She said she tagged along with her mother to the polls on election day, during the 2008 presidential election. "If you vote, you're adding your voice in how you want the country to go," said Davis.

Henry County Elections and Registration Director Janet Shellnutt spoke briefly to the eighth-graders Tuesday, giving her take on the importance of the voting process. Board of Elections Chairman Eddie Cardell, also spoke to the students.

"They definitely need to know the process," Cardell said, "and I'm encouraged that our schools are getting involved. I want people to turn out and vote. Voting is a privilege, and all of the elections are important."