EAST HELENA — If the votes of school-aged students officially counted, incumbent U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg would win the upcoming election.
The 394 students at East Valley Middle School were among thousands of students across the state on Thursday participating in the 2010 Student Mock Election, which provides middle school and high school students a unique opportunity to voice their opinions on public issues while gaining a better understanding of the value of voting.
The Republican congressman received 3,153 of the votes, which is more than double the number Democratic opponent Dennis McDonald received with 1,298 at near closing of the online voting polls at 5 p.m. Libertarian Mike Fellows received 558 votes.
In student voting, Helena attorney Beth Baker was victorious over Nels Swandal for Supreme Court justice with 2,463 to 1,946, respectively.
Eighth-grader Madison Trevor voted for McDonald and Baker. Those choices, she said, were made by a combination of discussions with her parents and forming her own opinions.
The student ballots were modified with some questions relevant to young lives.
One question: “What is the most important issue?” with health care taking the lead with 1,749 votes; the economy second with 1,351 votes; immigration third with 954 votes; and energy next with 902.
Trevor, a slender brunette who wore jeans, Rocket Dog shoes and purple nail polish, clicked health care.
“I picked health care because it’s important for everyone to be able to have the care they need,” she said.
Another question: “When should students be allowed to use cell phones during school hours?”
The majority (2,357) of students, including Trevor, voted for “outside of class time.” A close second with 1,716 votes was “anytime,” which is how seventh-grader Nicolette Kleppelid voted. There were 137 students who voted they shouldn’t ever be allowed to use their cell phones during school hours, while 694 said it should be all right in cases of emergency.
At the middle school, as with many nearby schools, the rule is that cell phones must be kept in a locker and can only be used before and after school.
Kleppelid says cell phones are so much of a part of student’s lives that they should not have restrictions.
Jason Cummings, an eighth-grade voting official, says student mock elections are important so students know how the process works when they reach the official voting age.
Diana McMahon, seventh-grade social studies teacher, said the day is exciting for students. Before they sat in front of laptops to vote, McMahon spent time with them going over the ballot and some of the issues.
Darrel Rud, executive director of School Administrators of Montana, said he hopes through the experience that students learn the “rights and responsibility of this great country.”
“If they haven’t been taught or talked to about the foundation of democracy, I hope their enthusiasm towards the issues will affect their parents and siblings and encourage them to have a dialogue that’s rich at home,” Rud said.
In many ways, the statewide student mock election began in East Helena. About eight years ago, Vice Principal Mike Agostinelli wrote a web-based program for students, and he was soon asked by Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer if such a program could be used for a mock election. So Agostinelli wrote one, and it didn’t take long before the entire state joined in.
“It grew and the state took over,” Agostinelli said.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said that even though this election tally didn’t count toward the official election on Tuesday, it didn’t curb the student enthusiasm.
“They take it seriously and we see over the years that the overall results are pretty close to the official election,” she said.
McCulloch said democracy depends on actively engaged citizens who know and understand how government works.
For more information about the student election, visit www.
Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org