Thousands of Md. students cast ballots for president Youths in 3 counties vote in national mock election

November 07, 1996|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,STAFF WRITER

As they sat around the lunch table yesterday, the topic was, predictably, politics.

But these were no ordinary Baltimore County voters rehashing the general election. They were 10-year-olds reflecting on their first time in the booth as part of Kids Voting, a national mock election for school-age children.

"Mom said I should have my own opinion," said Rebecca Josowitz, a fifth-grader at Lutherville Elementary School who voted to give President Clinton a second term. "I felt like I was grown up and doing the same thing my parents were doing."

Over a bag of Doritos, her buddy, John Black, said he also voted for Clinton: "I got so confused after I heard so many rumors about the candidates, but I had to state my own opinion. It was a great opportunity for me to actually see how to choose a president."

In the Kids Voting project, Josowitz, Black and thousands of other Baltimore County students, along with students in Harford and Washington counties, accompanied their parents to polling places for a hands-on civics lesson.

Many voted along family lines, some cast ballots based on rumors, and still others on whim.

The students, ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors, were part of a program started in 1988 by Arizona business leaders seeking to involve youths in mock elections and form voting habits early.

Nationally, more than 5 million students in 40 states participated on Tuesday, said Suellen Weisberg, executive director of Kids Voting Maryland, a nonprofit organization based in Baltimore. Nationally, Clinton was the victor over Dole by a margin of 54 percent to 35 percent, with Ross Perot receiving 8 percent.

The students used paper ballots that were counted into the early hours of Wednesday by school officials. Some Maryland high school students lent a hand at the local polls and received community service credits toward graduation.

Organizers in the three Maryland counties that participated said the students turned out in heavy numbers and even drove up the participation by registered voters -- their parents.

In Baltimore County, where 35,000 of an estimated 105,000 students took part, they voted to re-elect Clinton.

But challenger Dole was the choice of a majority of students in both Harford County, where 16,907 of 41,000 students turned out, and Washington County, where 9,017 of about 20,000 students voted.

At the precincts, the Kids Voting project was wildly popular. Schools ran out of ballots. Students approaching the booths were both giddy and nervous.

"Voting is a habit," said Nancy Brooks, head of the Baltimore County school system's social studies department. "It's thinking about the election and following the election, and we think that if kids do that when they are young, it will be part of what they do. I had a lot of parents tell us that their 7-year-old watched the news for the first time last night."

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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