As voters head to the polls today, groups of younger, not-quite-18 voters are taking part in democratic elections of their own.
At a time when studies show that civic education — which includes lessons on citizenship, government, law and current events — is lacking in most school curriculums, students are taking advantage of this year’s election cycle to defy the trend.
In a report for NBC’s TODAY show, Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of President George W. Bush, visited schools across the country to check out what America’s youngest “voters” are doing to take part in the democratic process.
At Watson Elementary School in Rockville Centre, N.Y., Kate Zimmer’s first grade class is busy filling out their ballots in a voting booth to decide: no homework tonight or 10 extra minutes of recess?
“Don’t forget to cast your vote, we want to hear your voice,” the students sang. The majority verdict: no homework.
And in middle and high schools elsewhere, issues like better school lunches, amount of homework and number of school trips and dances are at stake in their elections. To get students involved, peers are incentivizing their constituents with things close to their hearts to get out the vote for mock elections.
“It’s just us trying to outdo each other,” one student at the Academy At Palumbo High School in Philadelphia told Hager. “Like if you bring in cupcakes today I’m going to bring in like bugger cupcakes tomorrow.”
A 2012 survey by CIRCLE for the Youth Education Fund found that 80 percent of young voters surveyed could not correctly identify their state’s registration rules — suggesting a lack of emphasis on current events and civic education. But these young people at Palumbo — who will comprise the youth vote in the next election — might be one group of many turning the tide.
“The idea of taking something that politics is for adults, for people who are older and trying to change that idea. They are for everybody,” AP government teacher Christian Pedone said. “I tell my students that as they get older and they don’t vote that when I’m a very old man and I pass on, that I will come back and haunt them.”
The students expressed widespread enthusiasm for turning 18 for voter eligibility, noting the importance of casting a ballot — a lesson that schools and projects like VOTES (Voting Opportunities for Teenagers in Every State) are trying to instill in the country’s young people.
In this year’s VOTES nationwide mock election for 54,000 high schoolers across 130 schools, students elected President Barack Obama for a second term with 52.2 percent of the vote. The mock election has accurately reflected the actual election outcome in five of the last six cycles.
Now that Obama has won a Second Term as President, the real work begins: