This may be a tense political season, but the mood at Brighton High’s mock election on Friday was pensive and subdued. There was some spirited, thoughtful discussion prior to the opening of the polls. But as soon as history teacher Tabatha Mayne handed out the simulated ballots, a hush fell over her classroom.
Her students, most of whom will be old enough to vote in the 2020 election, had their choice of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein as well as an option for write-in candidates. “Write-in candidates must officially declare their candidacy,” Mayne reminded her class. “So if you write in someone like Mitt Romney, your vote counts for nothing, because he isn’t a registered candidate.”
The Bengals join 50,000 high schoolers across the country who are participating in a mock election that, according to organizers, has accurately predicted the outcomes of six of the last seven presidential elections. Results of the voting will be unveiled state-by-state in an electoral map on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 6.
VOTES (Voting Opportunities for Teens in Every State) was started in 1988 by two history teachers in Massachusetts, and includes teen voters from at least one public and one independent school in each state. The project aims to underscore the importance of voting, and give teens a taste of the process so that it’s less intimidating. “One of the most important rights that we have, and civic duties, is to vote,” Mayne says. “Everybody needs to find his or her voice. America is great because of her people. And as long as Americans do what they’re supposed to do civically, we’re going to be OK.”
This year’s election has captured the interest of people from around the world. If Clinton wins, she will become the United States’ first Madam President. But the election also has been marked by fierce partisan rhetoric and violence at rallies, prompting many states to close schools on Election Day for safety reasons. For the first time in a presidential election in Salt Lake County, polling stations will not be located in schools, and will be moved to other community centers, such as fire stations and libraries.
Inflamed passions can make it difficult to rationally discuss politics in the classroom, says Mayne. Her strategy: Place today’s debates in historic context. There are a lot of parallels, she says, between today’s issues and candidates and those of the progressive era of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson. “Roosevelt would eventually choose during Wilson’s election to run on the Bull Moose Party ticket, because he was not satisfied with Taft being progressive enough. It’s kind of like Evan McMullin saying, ‘I want people to have a different choice than Trump and Clinton.’ And the issues they faced back then are not unlike the issues we face today.”