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Eaton Rapids Homecoming Teaches High School Students About Elections

By Kristy Reinecke

Location: Mid-Michigan
Population: 5,330

The city of Eaton Rapids found itself in a unique situation. Students in the High School came to city council meetings demanding a recount on the student council election for Homecoming King and Queen. Unfortunately, the student council tabulated the ballots at a student’s home, and the ballots mysteriously came up missing, ensuring that a recount could not be conducted. The students were livid, and the message that was being sent to our next voting generation was that elections are rigged, and an individual vote does not count.

Eaton Rapids Voting

After a botched Homecoming King and Queen election, Eaton Rapids High School students wanted “fair” elections. The city and school got together and created “Voting 101.”

City council decided to take a proactive step to change this message, and began formulating a plan for “Voting 101” in the high school. With our future voting generation living in the era of ‘hanging chads,’ scandalous politicians, and dubious elections, council desired to change the students’ perceptions and present a more positive electoral image. It was the perfect opportunity to integrate municipal elections into the high school. The mayor, city clerk, high school principal, school superintendent, student council president, and government teachers coordinated their efforts and formulated a plan to aid future student body elections so that they were run fairly, would educate students about the importance of voting, and at the same time, give them confidence the first time they actually entered a polling facility to cast a vote in their city, school, or national election. The lesson impacted the students all the more, considering it related to their fellow students; they had a significant stake in the process and outcome.

TAKING IT TO THE SCHOOL

The city clerk and student council advisor met on a weekly basis to formulate a plan for the upcoming “Winterfest” election that nominated King and Queen of the Winterfest court. The student council had the responsibility of running the election that would nominate the Winterfest Court, but the city helped out with the voting. “Voting 101” allowed the student council, along with government students, to get involved in the entire election process. Under the direction of the city clerk, they learned how to organize an actual election from start to finish. The student council and government classes were responsible for obtaining accurate class lists and getting the information to the city clerk, who acted as the official election publishing company. The clerk printed sample ballots and sent them back to the students for their approval on spelling and correct “class” status. Then the students took the proofed ballot back to the city clerk, who then printed up over 1,200 ballots for the election. Student council and government students had to “advertise” the election (as in real election law) via posters and daily announcements over the P.A. system so that all students were notified of the date and time of the vote well in advance.

On the day of the election, city voting booths and machines were moved to the high school. Under the direction of the clerk, the students had the responsibility of setting up a “polling" place, as well as being responsible for election workers. Election workers were administered the Oath of Office and assigned classes for which they were responsible. When students came to vote, they checked in with the correct poll worker, were verified by that election worker they were a student in the high school, were given a numbered ballot to fill out, and were then shown into a voting booth where they were instructed on how to properly mark their ballot. After voting, their ballot was placed in the voting container, monitored by the city clerk. The clerk in turn placed an “I voted” sticker on the students.

When the polls officially closed, the election workers were responsible for tearing down the polling facility, ensuring that the ballot containers were sealed with official tags, and the results were brought back to city hall, where the clerk’s staff hand tabulated the ballots.

RESULTS

The “Winterfest” crowning occurred at the last home basketball game—the results were sealed with the city’s seal in an official envelope and announced by the student council president at halftime. The result has been an incredible success. The students feel educated about the election process and comfortable about voting in real elections when they turn eighteen. The students felt confident that every measure of security was undertaken to ensure that this election was official and honest. The city and school received numerous accolades in the local newspaper. This was a life lesson for both students and adults on how individual actions can impact our lives.

The first year, the city clerk registered 23 students to vote in regular elections. The city has been approached to run future “Voting 101” classes at next year’s school elections for Homecoming King and Queen as well as Winterfest King and Queen. The word has spread, and neighboring school districts are interested in using the “Voting 101” model developed by Eaton Rapids.

The costs of the program were minimal, but the looks on students' faces the day of the election were priceless.

Dave Johnson, Eaton Rapids High School Principal made this statement about “Voting 101”: 

I am always pleased when we find ways to collaborate with other organizations for the educational benefit of our students. I want you to know how much we have appreciated, and how much our students have benefited, from your involvement in the administration of our school elections. Aside from knowing that our election results are secure and accurate, one of the biggest benefits for us is that our students get the opportunity to participate in the actual voting process while still in high school. 

 

Kristy Reinecke is the clerk for the city of Eaton Rapids. She can be reached at 517-663-8118 or kreinecke@ci.eaton-rapids.mi.us.

 

 

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