WASHINGTON – Democrats may have won Maryland’s gubernatorial and Senate races in Tuesday’s election, but among the state’s grade-school voters, it was the Grand Old Party that won.
Maryland students selected Lt. Gov. Michael Steele as their favorite candidate for U.S. Senate and Republican incumbent Robert Ehrlich in the gubernatorial race in the National Student/Parent Mock Election, held between Nov. 2 and Nov. 7.
Ehrlich won 42 percent of the vote in the mock election, with 36 percent going to his opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. Steele captured 53 percent of the vote against Rep. Benjamin Cardin, who trailed with 32 percent of the vote.
In the “real” general election, Cardin became the state’s junior senator by 54.7 percent to Steele’s 43.7, while O’Malley drubbed the governor, 53 to 46 percent.
“It’s certainly exciting to see what the kids do,” said Rebecca Goode, third vice president of the state’s League of Women Voters, who has been coordinating the project in Maryland since 2004.
Educators declined to discuss the results, stressing that the purpose of the mock election was to teach students about voting.
Schools in at least 10 Maryland counties participated in the national effort, Goode said, including those in Kent, Somerset, Caroline, Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s, Carroll, Cecil and Wicomico counties.
“Our students take the HSA (state exams) and we want them to put those democratic values in practice,” said Roger Eareckson, principal of Colonel Richardson High School in Caroline County. For 12th-graders, he added, mock voting is a good way to prepare for the real process.
Youth turnout increased in the 2004 election, but experts say more needs to be done to assure the next generation of voters is active. About 47 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds voted two years ago compared with 36 percent in 2000, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civil Learning & Engagement.
Eareckson, who signed up his school for the first time this year, said more than 400 students voted. The voting went smoothly, he said, except for an error that left District 1 candidates off the ballot.
“(Students) did not know all the issues . . . but I think they did pretty well,” he said.
Some schools not taking part in the national event organized their own elections.
At James M. Bennett High School in Wicomico, for example, social studies teachers discussed local and national issues with students before handing out ballots on Monday, said American Government teacher Mary Freistat.
Most Maryland teachers involved in the national program, Goode said, had students vote online at the National Student/Parent Mock Election Web site, where they also had access to curriculum materials highlighting key issues.
“Hopefully it will keep students continuing to vote through their lives,” she said.
Goode spread the word by contacting social studies teachers and school officials. In Kent County, where she lives, Goode set up bulletin boards in schools, offering candidate information.
In 2004 about 700,000 students participated, but this year Goode said she expected a lower turnout figure because she had less time to advertise the project.
Across the United States, more than a million people voted in the National Student/Parent Mock Election, which was launched in 1980, said Gloria Kirshner, president and co-founder of the nonprofit group.
Kirshner encourages parents to evaluate candidates with their children and vote in the mock election.
“It’s really important that children really learn what democracy really means,” Kirshner said. “Democracy is not a horse race or a popularity contest.”