From his perch in front of the electronic voting machine set up at the Conway Junior High School, Brandon Stone, 13, of Conway, smiled as he touched the touchscreen buttons and voted in a mock election for eighth and ninth graders.
“Us kids, we never get to vote very often,” Brandon said. “I thought (voting) was a good experience. It was a chance to learn to vote on the machines.”
The voting machine’s screen showed all the candidates and amendments up for vote on Election Day, but Brandon’s and other students’ votes won’t be counted as part of the official Nov. 6 election, school and county officials said.
Brandon is among about 780 eighth-grade students who will have used the voting machines — the real ones from the county clerk’s office — to pretend vote. Roughly the same number of ninth-grade students voted last week. Between 1,400 and 1,500 students total will have voted in the mock election by Friday, said teacher Sherry Tipps-Holder, history department chairwoman.
For the first time, the junior high school is holding a mock election with electronic voting machines, Holder said. Official plan to get results from the students’ ballots and compare them with how their parents vote in November, she said.
To make sure voting goes smoothly at the junior high, members of the Parents Assisting With Students group, manned the machines and answered questions. Aleshia Ligon, the chairwoman of the committee overseeing the machines, said she wants students to go home and talk about voting with their parents.
“It’s a privilege to be able to go and vote,” Ligon said.
The exercise is a lesson in “participatory citizenship,” Holder said.
At 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, teacher Ryan Reed lead about 27 of his Arkansas History students, including Brandon, into a room with four voting machines on loan to the school by the county clerk. He said he wanted his students to understand the voting process, to see and touch the machines used for voting and to inspire them to vote when they turn 18.
“Nobody (in class) has seen anything like this before. This is something all new to them,” Reed said. “Hopefully, they will vote when they are 18.”
For most junior high school students, the mock election is their first experience with the voting machines, Holder said. Faulkner County began using the machines in 2004. This year, the junior high school is the only school to request the machines for teaching students, County Clerk Melinda Reynolds said.
“I think it’s just a great service for the kids,” Reynolds said. “I just think they learn the process of voting.”
In four years, some students who are pretend voting now will be voting for real, Holder said.
“That time goes by fast,” Holder said.