Students at Adairsville High School and the Bartow County College and Career Academy got a taste of what it means to live in a democratic society.
AHS students went through the official elections process using voting machines from the Bartow County Board of Elections to elect their student council representatives and homecoming court in mid-September while BCCCA students voted for their student board of directors a week later.
The process was especially important for the seniors since they will be eligible to vote for the first time in the 2016 presidential election.
“Our goal was to give the students an authentic experience in voting,” AHS social studies teacher and student council adviser Summer Erickson said. “I also knew voter turnout was really low in Bartow County and wanted to do something about it. My hope is that through this experience, the students will become more comfortable with the voting process and will not be intimidated when they turn 18. It will be interesting to see what the voter turnout rate will be next year in the presidential election. My hope is that it increases in our part of the county.”
Daniel Cowart, a U.S./world history teacher at BCCCA, said he thinks going through the official election procedures “gives students a real-world understanding of how this process works and what representatives do.”
“They can understand our distribution of power between different people and groups and how to cooperate to get what they want instead of thinking they can just have things their way and not compromising,” he said. “It also teaches them indirectly about networking to accomplish things. Working with others to get things done is the American way.”
Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk said participating in the actual election process can be “very daunting for someone who has never seen it before, and allowing the students to participate in this way helps ensure they will participate in the future.”
“I jumped at the chance to participate in this program because there is gap in the curriculum in our school systems,” he said. “The students are instructed on how our great nation was founded and how we got to the point we’re at now, but they are never instructed on the practical aspects of registering to vote and voting. So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give them the information they need to successfully participate in their government as they come of age.”
To prepare for election day, Kirk helped both schools with all the logistics involved in voting, as well as learn the rules and regulations.
“The day before the election, I instructed a select group of students as poll workers in very much the same way that I train the county poll workers,” he said. “The only thing I left out was some of the legal aspects that didn’t apply to their election. We then set up the space as a polling place with all the proper signs, equipment and materials.”
On election day, he said he “assisted the student poll workers in swearing themselves in and opening the poll.”
“Then all I had to do was stand back and watch as the voting process took place,” he said, noting all the students “did great, especially the managers and assistant managers.”
Kirk also spoke to students at both schools about voting and “actually registered them to vote, further preparing them for next year’s elections,” according to Erickson.
“... That’s my favorite part of the program,” Kirk said. “While participating in the election helps demystify the process for all the students, which will make them more likely to participate in the process in the future, it’s the information they received during the lecture that will truly help them effectively participate in their government.”
Erickson, who brought voting machines into the school in 2012, said sophomores, juniors and seniors had been using the machines to vote for their representatives their entire high school career.
“I was speaking to my junior U.S. history class, reminding them how to vote, and they said, ‘Mrs. E, we got this,’” she said. “In fact, the process went really fast. The only time it slowed down was when the freshmen entered the building to vote. My poll officers — the [12 students in] AP government class — had to educate the freshmen at the polls on how to vote.”
Cowart said he continued the use of voting machines — started two years ago by Michael Fitch — when he came on board at BCCCA last year.
AHS senior Amanda Brugh, 17, was chosen chief manager for elections because of the leadership skills and experience she had from working election day last year.
“I decided to take on this role because I knew it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the voting process and to lead my peers,” the Rydal resident said.
As manager, Brugh was charged with such duties as distributing rolls to each polling officer, preparing the main gym for election day, checking in students and assigning them a voting card and making sure her officers performed their duties correctly.
“After working election day two years in a row, I have learned the importance of a vote and the impact a single vote can make, especially in a plurality voting system,” she said, noting she will “definitely be voting in the upcoming 2016 election.”
Erickson said 70 percent of the student body, or 663 students, at Adairsville voted in the election.
“All students had the opportunity to vote, but like in real elections, some did not take that opportunity,” she said. “I am not sure how many were absent or on a field trip on that day.”
When the votes were tallied, the winners for student council positions were:
Freshman class: Dillan Frazier, president; Hanah Alderdice, vice president; and Lilli Kennedy, secretary.
Sophomore class: Jared “J.T.” Tatum, president; Brissa Perez, vice president; Caleb Mealer, secretary; and Katie Mulkey, treasurer.
Junior class: Madison Harrell, president; Jacob Potter, vice president; Karen Perez, secretary; and Abby Asbridge; treasurer.
Senior class: Walker Holmes, president; Molly Smith, vice president; Amanda Brugh, secretary; and Adam Thomas, treasurer.
Students also were able to write in their choices for homecoming court: freshmen — Aleah Abernathy, Helen Bryant and Ashtyn Edenfield; sophomores — Gloria Brownlow, Chloe Madison Cochran and Zabria Harris; juniors — Alyssa Maleah Beemiller, Makenzie Davis and Madison Harrell; senior boys — Christopher Blackston, Austin Cobb, Lane Griffith, Daelen Harrison and Walker Holmes; and senior girls — Kiyah Baxter, Amanda Brugh, Bayleigh Garlin, Joellen Peoples and Haley Simerly. Winners will be announced at the homecoming game Oct. 30.
At BCCCA, students voted for seven positions — for which 20 candidates ran — on the board of directors, a group Principal/CEO Dr. Paul Sabin consults once a month to help improve the school and get feedback from students.
“All BCCCA students could vote in the election, even the students taking college classes,” Cowart said. “All students voted for chair, vice chair and secretary. Students voted for representatives according to when they attend the academy.”
Winners were Pedro Vasquez from Woodland High, chairman; Madison McCormack from Cass High, vice chairwoman; Cicily Flores from Adairsville High, secretary; Jamal Evans from Cass and Izia Crockett from Woodland, morning representatives; and Emma Diaz from Adairsville and Hayden Womack from Woodland, afternoon representatives.
Both teachers said the entire election process went very well.
“We had many people sign up to run for each office,” Cowart said. “... We also got students from a wide range of backgrounds to run. We had a student who is Kenyan, several Hispanics, a couple of African-Americans and many ladies involved. I think this speaks highly for the future of democracy in our country that such a diverse group is willing to participate in our established way of life and doing things and that they want to get involved in it.”
Most importantly, the process was a valuable learning experience for the students.
“In the student council elections, the students receive the full voting experience,” Erickson said. “Just like in a real election, they come in, fill out the registration card, turn it in to a poll worker, receive a voting card, vote and get an ‘I voted’ sticker. My hope is that they learn the voting process is very simple, and every vote does matter.”
She added some of the AP government students did “so well working the polls that Mr. Kirk has invited them to work in actual elections.”
The BCCCA students learned more about the principles on which the country was founded, according to Cowart.
“I think the students learn how democracy in America works and how power is handed to people who are then supposed to be responsible with it and use it for good,” he said.