What the Travis County Mock Student Election Can Tell Us About November's Race
Gretchen Nagy needs something – anything.
She's standing in front of two Austin ISD students and a district employee, who are about to go live on television, covering the district’s mock presidential election. The only problem: They have no results.
"And we’re back!" Austin public school student Logan Marcom said cheerily to the viewers of the Channel 22 broadcast. "My name is Logan Marcom and I’m going to share a few results from the school’s mock election."
A few seconds pass as Logan waits for results to appear, unsure what to do next.
"Okay and right now I’m not seeing any reports coming in at the moment that are popping up on the screen," said Jessica Jolliffee, Austin ISD's social studies coordinator.
Jolliffe is tried to buy some time, while Nagy, division director for the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector's Office, collected results. It was a disorganized start to the first-ever mock student election in Travis County, but the intention was good.
Nagy says the county wants to get students from South Austin to Lago Vista interested in voting through a mock election. The county collected results from each campus and broadcast the results along with public service announcements to encourage voter registration. The end goal: get students interested in the voting process and encourage their parents to register and vote.
If students in Travis County elected the next president, it seems Hillary Clinton would be the commander-in-chief, according to initial results announced Tuesday night. Elementary, middle and high school students at more than 90 schools participated from South Austin to Lago Vista.
"Students are able to go home and talk to their parents about that experience," Jolliffe said on TV. "Having been on a campus today helping facilitate the voting, I was surprised by the number of students who said, ‘This is so easy! I feel so empowered. This went really quickly. I’m really excited to go home and share this with my families.”
But many students had a different reaction about the mock election this year’s election cycle. Some said parents are doing most of the sharing. It’s one reason Akins High School senior Phillip Kerns is excited to see the results of the mock election.
“This would give us accurate results to what the real election will look like because these kids are listening to their parents' choices, who they wanna vote for, and that might carry over to who they are voting for," Kerns said.
If it's true that students’ voting choices can reflect their parents' choices, then the mock election was revealing in a few other ways, too.
1. Many students are unfamiliar with how ballots work.
At Akins High School, some students cast ballots for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov.Mike Pence – on the same ballot. Others circled both Clinton's and Trump’s name. Some voted for third-party candidates. Others didn’t know who they were. Many students were unclear about the write-in option.
“There are kids, they don’t know, if there’s a candidate that isn’t listed, you can write their name because they can still be voted for," Kerns said. "And, so, I’ve just been explaining that to kids. There have been some kids that have been taking it as a joke and writing in Harambe or Kanye West. I’ve seen more people taking it seriously than kids not taking it seriously.”
2. Many students think both candidates are a joke.
“It’s like memes and stuff," said Calypso Kommer, a freshman at Lago Vista High School. “They make something that Trump said that's funny, or Trump’s hair. That’s a big joke. Or Hillary Clinton wearing the same color clothing as Queen Elizabeth.”
3. Some students were frustrated others weren't taking it that seriously.
“The internet and all the funny images making fun of them is making people not serious about it," said Lago Vista freshman Amy Simmons. "And be like, ‘Oh, what’s the next joke going to be? Oh, I watched the debate last night what kind of jokes can we make out of this?' instead of taking out the serious parts of it and thinking, ‘Okay, they said this. If they get elected are they really going to do this? Or are they just saying this?'"
4. Students have a lot to learn about election laws.
At Lago Vista, students were separated into precincts by grade and other students checked their voter registration and ID. Those students weren’t afraid to tell their classmates who they should vote for or discuss who they might vote for.
By the end of the mock election broadcast, only half the schools had reported results, but Travis County is hoping all schools will report by Thursday.
This story was produced in collaboration with the Annette Strauss Institute’s Lebermann Forum.