Mario Outland, 11, thinks the economy and jobs are the biggest issues in the presidential election, and he’s sticking with President Barack Obama.

“He got money for health care,” the Pleasantville sixth-grader said as he cast his vote at the Middle School’s mock election.

Classmate Anna Roja, 13, said she believed the country needs a new president to get more jobs and lower taxes, so she voted for Mitt Romney.

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Both cast their ballots earlier this month in electronic voting booths brought to the school by the Atlantic County Board of Elections. Technician Michael Scheffler has a full round of school stops scheduled as schools throughout the county and region make the most of the opportunity to get students, and their families, involved in the election process.

“We’ll have them vote here, but also encourage them to go vote with their parents,” said Josephine Spinelli, a social studies teacher at Upper Township Middle School, where all 500 students will vote over two days in November. Student Council members will oversee the process, which includes having students sign their names in a prepared voter registry book, just as in a real election.

Eighth-graders at the Richard M. Teitelman Middle School in Cape May have been watching some of the debates and studying the candidates’ views on different issues in preparation for voting Nov. 2.

“We want them to have some knowledge of the issues,” teacher Linda Merlino said. “We’re not just having them go in and vote.”

At the Eugene A. Tighe Middle School in Margate, students registered to vote using a form modeled after the standard voter registration form, and students also designed registration cards each student will present to vote. They are researching a variety of issues ranging from the economy to abortion rights. The school will host classmates and parents at an Election Fair today in which they will present their research, and on Nov. 2 they will hold a mock election and convention run by the eighth-graders.

Last week teacher Kathy Styles-Landgraf supervised as students filled out their voter-registration forms.

“If you do not fill out this form, you will not vote on Nov. 2,” she said, reminding them to put in their formal name, and not a nickname. Students reviewed the laws on voting, and some students were surprised that a criminal record could affect their ability to vote.

“How do they know if you’re cheating?” Alex Blanchet, 13, asked, leading to a short discussion of voter fraud and investigations.

Teachers said they stay focused on civics, the election process and the issues. They work hard to avoid any discussion of which candidate should win.

“You can’t let personal opinions get into it,” Spinelli said.

Mock elections are popular because they give students the chance to have a voice. Teachers said it’s also interesting to later compare how the students voted with the town’s vote tallies. Some local schools will participate in the official New Jersey Mock Election that runs from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1.

Oakcrest High School Social Studies Supervisor Susan Foreman said teachers have begun registering students, and teachers are discussing the debates, having students write essays and analyzing statistics in math classes.

“They’re talking about issues like the Electoral College, and which states are considered most important right now,” Foreman said. She said since the high school is a polling place, some students might even be able to vote there on Election Day.

“Teachers will bring in sample ballots and talk about why it’s a good idea to review them before you vote,” Foreman said.

Oakcrest social studies teacher Vince Sera last week led his Advanced Placement class through a discussion of the presidential town hall debate, focusing on the physical demeanor and actions of the candidates. Students watched clips, discussed how the setup almost looked like a boxing ring, and how the candidates stood and moved into each other’s space.

“People understand aggression,” Sera said. “The question is how can you be informative, but also relate to people.”

Sera talked about the importance of undecided voters, and students noted how the candidates ignored formal rules of debate by talking over each other and the moderator, and how that affected their ability to answer or avoid answering questions.

Students in Sera’s class are still too young to vote, but Sera ended the class by asking them what issues they believe most affect their futures.

“Can you still achieve the American Dream?” he asked.

“It’s getting harder,” student Cassandra Mancella said.

“What is the American Dream?” Sera asked.

“Being able to live life the way you want to,” said student John Mitchell.

“So, can the government promise that dream?” Sera asked.

“No, just the opportunity,” Mitchell said.

“But will you get the opportunity?” Mancella asked. “Student loans for college are getting harder to get.”

Sera said he has been pleasantly surprised at how informed the students are.

Pleasantville Middle School teacher Bill Morton said he hopes his students shared their mock election experience with their families. He said the economy, jobs and war are the issues students are most interested in because they affect them the most.

“We brought in voter registration forms for parents, too,” he said. “We hope if students go home and say they voted, they might encourage parents to vote, too.”

Contact Diane D'Amico:


Why you should vote

Fifth-graders at the Eugene A. Tighe Middle School in Margate made posters responding to the issue of why you should vote. Here are some of their reasons:

‘You don’t want other people making decisions for you.’

Ben Neustadter

‘Your vote is your voice. When we vote we are telling elected officials and lawmakers how we feel about education, everyone’s safety and health, Social Security and a lot of other issues.’

Noam Levy

‘To lower taxes and gas prices.’

Livia McManus

‘100 years ago women were fighting for the right to vote. Don’t take it for granted.’

Ava Ritzel

‘Veterans fought for our vote.’

Sarah Glass

‘Vote because if you don’t other people will do it for you.’

Kai Tripician

‘The country is counting on you.’

Luke Spotts

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