Students are aware of election campaigns, and teacher can capitalize on that awareness to make a "teachable moment". Holding mock elections promotes democratic ideals.
From yard signs and headlines to dinner conversation and news, students are aware of elements of the elections, and every four years, teachers are given a chance to instill a sense of patriotic duty in students by holding mock presidential elections.
It is tempting to wait until the actual election day and hold a mere paper-pencil ballot with two names, but a true mock election takes more time. Students need to be aware of issues, backgrounds of candidates, and have a chance to discuss and ask questions. Even younger students will benefit from mock elections, if a teacher takes time to prepare and communicate.
Preparing Students for a Mock Election
The first step in any election is deciding who is allowed to vote. In a classroom, it is easy; students who are in the class are allowed to vote. However, teachers and classes can consider national issues with voters. What if someone is home sick? How will that person get to vote. In official elections, there are mail-in ballots. What if someone is suspended? In official elections, felons are not allowed to vote until they have served their sentence. What if someone from another class wants to vote? Mock elections generate a lot of interest, and people might want to stop in during lunch or recess and vote.
Next, decide who will count and certify the vote. With younger grades it might be the teacher, but in older grades, it might be another class that counts and certifies the vote.
Go over the ballot and process in advance with students. They should be able to see a sample ballot. They should know the candidates and the issues. They should understand where the ballot box will be and the procedures for voting.
Understanding Political Issues
It is important that teachers do not accidentally put their own biases into issues. It is best to go to a neutral sources, such as Google Election Tools for teachers, USA Today Election Issues, or Government Guide for Elections to get kid-friendly, balanced ballot information. It is important and ethical to make sure that every party and candidate who will be on the state ballot gets equal attention in classroom issue discussions.
Ballots and Voting
Ballots can be simple tick boxes on a form, and students can place them in a box. They should cross their names off of lists when they pick up a ballot, and receive a hand stamp or a sticker when they are done to indicate that they voted.
"I voted" stickers are often available through the various election offices, organizations such as The League of Women Voters, or they are for sale. Students can also make stickers in advance on small file label tabs.More advanced ballots are available. TheNational Student/Parent Mock Election site has printable ballots and web-based ballots, and they have steps in place for making sure votes are secure.
After the votes are tallied, teachers have another teachable moment because, just as in the national arena, there will be students who are thrilled, students who are angry, students who are disappointed, and students who are simply glad it is all over. Mock elections mirror society in more than just the voting process. Teachers should not end the activity with a mere announcement of a winner; rather, teachers should have a discussion about who won, why, and how the other candidates can participate in government and contribute to society.
Originally posted on Suite101 on October 7th, 2008
Ally Sharp is a teacher, writer and editor, and technology trainer.