Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Mock-election results show that Tuolumne County's students would likely vote Mitt Romney into office, while those in Calaveras County would favor Barack Obama.

Three local schools participated Oct. 30 in a statewide mock election sponsored by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Summerville High School had about 200 students cast votes, and almost 170 students in sixth through eighth grades took part at Columbia Elementary School.

Meanwhile, 70 students cast ballots at Avery Middle School in the Vallecito Union School District.

No other schools in this area participated in the mock election, which results in a statewide tally of student votes.

The legal voting age for all elections in California is 18, meaning that the majority of students in high school won't be able to cast real votes today.

Some states permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections or caucuses if they will be 18 by the date of the general election.

California's mock elections are designed to teach students the "importance of elections and the power of their votes in our democracy," according to the Secretary of State's website.

Amy Wahlbrink, a seventh- and eighth-grade history teacher at Columbia Elementary, said the lesson hit home - particularly when students considered their votes on ballot measures such as Proposition 30, which would raise the state sales tax 0.25 percent and impose higher taxes on the rich.

"The students said, 'These are really tough decisions that you're asking us to make,'" Wahlbrink explained. "It was great to see their eyes open. Elections are tough business. It's not something to be taken lightly."

On "voting day" Oct. 30, Columbia Elementary staff set up voting "booths" from wrestling mats in the gym to simulate a real polling place and give them a better feel for what they're like.

Other schools, like Summerville High School, treat mock voting as a more informal affair and integrate it with lunch periods. Summerville High's student government organized the effort and counted the ballots. The mock election is the school's third.

Statewide tallies of the students' ballots, announced Oct. 31, mirror California's voting history in recent presidential elections.

The students at 674 schools that reported results favored Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama by a landslide. Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan garnering just 23 percent of the vote.

Romney handily won Summerville High's election with about 65 percent of the votes. Romney was also Columbia Elementary's pick at almost 60 percent of the votes.

Avery Middle School students, by contrast, cast about 55 percent of their votes for Obama. They also favored incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for U.S. Senator by about 53 percent.

Summerville High and Columbia Elementary would have put Feinstein's Republican challenger, Elizabeth Emken, into office.

The student votes on ballot initiatives offered a glimpse into their views on other political issues.

Students at Summerville High School and Avery Middle School would have passed Proposition 30, which Gov. Jerry Brown said will prevent further cuts to education funding.

Columbia Elementary students would have killed the measure, with 58 percent voting no. They also would have defeated a competing tax initiative, Proposition 38, advocated as a more targeted way to raise funds for education.

More than 70 percent of Columbia Elementary students voted against Proposition 34, which would replace California's death penalty with life in prison. Students at Avery Middle School and Summerville High approved the proposition.

Students at all three schools approved Proposition 37, which would require the labelling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients.

They also voted against Proposition 32, a measure that would prevent unions from making political contributions with money deducted from member paychecks.

Tuolumne County Deputy Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin noted that time constraints and staffing requirements may have kept more schools from participating in student mock elections this year.

Wahlbrink agreed that the process is time intensive, with little room left for it by state curricular standards that don't include information about ballot initiatives.

At Columbia Elementary, students in seventh and eighth grades spent class time learning about the propositions on California's ballot. Many already had strong opinions on the measures, carrying over discussions from home.

Debating the issues in class was also a valuable lesson, according to Wahlbrink.

"It showed them it's OK to have different opinions than other people," she said. "That's how some of the debates in our class ended - that we have to agree to disagree, just like it's going to be when you're an adult."

Summerville High Principal David Johnstone said students at his school were far from apathetic about voting.

"They'd go, "Heck yeah, we're voting!" Johnstone said. "It was a good interest level in having their say. They said, 'This is the best way to support schools.'"

Contact Brenna Swift at or 588-4529.