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Have your say: Students to cast ballots today in mock election

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As voters across the country cast ballots today, students and employees at Center Grove High School will do the same.

The ballots at Center Grove won’t be officially counted in any races but will help prepare students for when they do get to cast ballots in future elections.

About 2,500 ninth- through 12th-graders, teachers and administrators could vote before school or during the day for the races for president, governor and U.S. Senate, as well as for a question asking whether Center Grove should become a town. Senior Advanced Placement government students will work the polls and ask voters to provide identification before using iPads to cast their ballots.

This is the second time that Center Grove has conducted a schoolwide mock election. The first was during the 2008 presidential election. The point of the election is to show students, especially those not yet old enough to vote, what the process is like, U.S. government teacher Todd Sheely said.

Other Johnson County schools, including Creekside Elementary School in Franklin, also are having presidential and gubernatorial elections for students.

But at Center Grove the activity won’t end when the polls close and the results are announced at the end of the day. The iPad program the high school is using will keep track of statistics, such as which grade levels voted for which party, and Sheely’s students will have follow-up assignments analyzing and explaining the high school’s voting patterns.

Today’s mock election and the lessons that follow culminate months of classes spent reviewing the events that lead to Election Day. Sheely’s students have reviewed election coverage and polls and watched clips of the presidential debates and campaign satire, such as “Saturday Night Live.”

Because each presidential election is unique, Sheely said he tries to adjust his lessons every four years so the focus is on what’s happening.

“If you ask the students, they’ll probably say they’ll enjoy Advanced Placement government more in the fall this year,” he said.

Most of the questions on Center Grove’s ballot are similar and as straightforward as those voters see on official ballots, asking them to simply select a candidate. But Center Grove’s ballots have other questions for students and employees, such as their gender, their year in school and the reasoning behind their presidential pick.

The ballot asks if students voted based on issues such as health care or the economy, because of a candidate’s speaking ability or because it’s how their parents voted.

The iPads use a program that will save the results for the different races and the answers to the survey questions. Then Sheely’s students will review the data to look for trends. Other government classes may have similar lessons, Sheely said.

Senior Advanced Placement government students Conner Stapleton, Mackenzie Dean and Jacob Stallard all will work Center Grove’s polls today; and Stapleton, 18, will vote both at school and in the real election.

“It’s a unique experience for Center Grove,” Stapleton said. “It gets students involved in the whole election process.”

Still, he said he’s more excited about casting his ballot in the actual election, which he hopes to do during his study hall at a nearby vote center.

“I feel like this is a very close election, where every vote counts, and my vote is going to shape the future of the country,” he said.

Neither Dean nor Stallard is old enough to vote in the actual election. Dean said she’s especially frustrated as her 18th birthday is Wednesday. But Stallard said casting his Center Grove ballot is enough for him.

“It’s basically the same experience, participating in a mock election. It’s not that big a deal to me,” he said.

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