Students Sample Election Politics at More Than 100 US High Schools, Mock Presidential Elections Heighten Political Awareness

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH they aren't old enough to vote in the national election tomorrow, students across the United States are voicing their political opinions through mock presidential elections.

In one of the largest mock elections, more than 40,000 high schoolers from Claremont, Calif., to Auburn, Maine, endorsed Gov. Bill Clinton by a landslide last Thursday.

Governor Clinton received 331 electoral votes while Ross Perot, with 109 electoral votes, edged out President George Bush, who gained only 98 electoral votes.

The V.O.T.E.S. project - or Voting Opportunities for Teenagers in Every State - includes 103 public and private high schools. Every state is represented.

The project began four years ago as an effort to involve high school students in the political process. "These kids will all be eligible to vote in the next four years," says Lorrie Byrom, a history teacher at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Mass., a private boarding school that organizes the project.

"It's an opportunity to use our voice in a way that can impact our community without actually participating in the real election," says junior Chrystel Romero. "It's about as close as we can get since most of us are under age."

In 1988, the V.O.T.E.S. results predicted the outcome of the actual presidential election.

Yet forecasting the winner isn't the goal of this project, says Jim Shea, another history teacher at Northfield Mount Hermon.

"We're not trying to predict the results on Tuesday at all," Mr. Shea says. "I think the month leading up to our election is more important than the results."

At Northfield Mount Hermon, the entire month of October was devoted to gearing up for the election. It began with voter registration and the organization of campaigns. Campus rallies and debates became a regular feature.

"The students are really enthusiastic about the whole thing," says Pete Guiney, manager of the Clinton campaign on campus.

The V.O.T.E.S. project has permeated this 1,100-student school. There's an essay contest titled "The Successful President, 1993 - Who Has What It Takes?" Even the weekend movie schedule was overtaken by political flicks.

"One really important part of the project is that the kids see that it's not just a history or political science project," Ms. Byrom says. "There really is a lot going on across the disciplines."

Math classes worked with the statistics of electoral college votes. Economics teachers talked about the economic issues at stake in the election. A psychology class conducted an extensive pre-election poll of some 500 students.

"We're hoping to be somewhat of a model campus for the other 102 participating schools," Shea says. Many of those schools sponsored their own unique events.

At Gill St. Bernard's School in Gladstone, N.J., students held a press conference for local reporters who interviewed student campaign representatives.

One of Clinton's cousins came to The Thatcher School in Ojai, Calif., for a lively debate with a local Republican representative. Pupils act out debate

During a final campus debate last Wednesday at Northfield Mount Hermon, students packed the Northfield chapel and listened attentively to two debating students acting as Bush and Clinton.

Carrie Cooke, as Bush, and Sarah Spill, as Clinton, wore pin-striped suit jackets and ties in an effort to resemble the candidates, if only slightly.

Outside the chapel, the school's Clinton and Bush campaign managers manned tables with pins and hoisted signs advertising their candidates. …