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Young voters get lesson in democracy

11/7/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Barack Obama was the people's choice for the next president of the United States.

But not by youngsters in a town of 20,000 in the middle of the country.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney was an overwhelming favorite over Obama in the Kids Voting Kansas program Tuesday in Hays.

Approximately 20 students from Hays High School's two advanced placement government classes counted the ballots that night.

Of the 1,000-plus students who cast ballots, 740 of them chose Romney over Obama, who tallied 254 votes. Complete results of the Kids Voting Kansas can be found at www.kidsvotingkansas.org.

The program focuses on social studies curriculum for students about the entire election process voting, then culminates with students going to the polls on Election Day with an adult and voting in their own election at booths staffed by community volunteers.

Students from Thomas More Prep-Marian High School man one of the polls in town, and students at Hays High School tally the votes when the polls close.

HHS senior Faith Burdine brought along a friend, Amber Prejean, to help count votes Tuesday night, and Prejean was intrigued by the process.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Prejean, a Fort Hays State University student from Colorado Springs, Colo.

HHS government teacher Abby Maska said the group was one of the largest she has had volunteer to help out on election night.

It's not only a service to the community, but it also is a valuable hands-on learning experience for her students.

Maska had her students research the electoral map, and each of her two classes did an election forecast and predicted the outcome of the electoral college.

She also had the students split up into groups of four and make up their own political parties.

"It helps you understand the difference between the parties," Hays High senior Hayden Schnuerle said. "(Classmates) ask a lot of questions, and you have to now what you're talking about."

Maska, in her fifth year of teaching at Hays High, glanced around her classroom Tuesday night, ready to get back to normal the next morning.

"Sometimes I'm ready for all this to be over," she said, "but the students are really engaged."

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A total of 1,040 students turned out Tuesday in Hays to take part in the Kids Voting Kansas election.

Four local schools -- Wilson, Roosevelt and Holy Family elementaries and Hays Middle School -- each had more than 150 students cast votes. Laura Hertel, chair of the local Kids Voting Kansas committee, also reported that nearly 100 high school students participated, a high number for grades 9 through 12.