COLUMBIA — The fact that a majority of Hickman High School students fall short of the voting age didn’t stop them from making their voices heard Tuesday morning.
More than half of Hickman’s 2,200 students cast ballots supporting their favorite presidential candidates in the school’s mock primary election. The majority named Barack Obama and John McCain as their respective Democratic and Republican choices.
Rachel Zemke, a 17-year-old senior and the student government policy chair at Hickman, said while she wasn’t surprised that Obama won, his 80.4 percent victory over Hillary Clinton did come as a shock.
“I was a little surprised by the margin, but I think that a lot of kids really like the idea of Obama becoming president because they think that he represents change,” she said. The margin of votes for each winning candidate, however, was not as important to these young voters as the number 18 — the voting age that excluded most of them from Missouri’s actual primary.
Celinda Marshall, a 17-year-old senior, was disappointed to miss the opportunity to vote in Tuesday’s primary election. Her birthday falls in early March.
“I think the voting age should be 17 because you start getting charged as an adult at 17 and should be able to vote and help make decisions” she said. “I’d say I’m slightly more informed than the general public.”
Marshall is a senior in Hickman’s Our Law in Society class, where students investigate political issues pertinent to them.
“I tend to think that we have some kids who may be more politically informed now than they’ll ever be in their whole lives because they’re sort of forced to participate in the dialogue about it,” Jami Thornsberry, who teaches the Our Law in Society class, said.
This “forced exposure,” as Thornsberry describes it, gets students comparing online candidate calculators, engaging in regular political discussions and making campaign posters in class — exposing students to several hot-button issues.
“An issue that’s really divisive, I have found with my classes, is immigration. They’re really torn on that. That’s a more polarizing issue than even the war in Iraq,” Thornsberry said.
Caitlin Chester, 17, a senior in Thornsberry’s class, said she hasn’t let her aversion to the nasty side of politics stop her from developing and defining what she believes.
“I definitely think we should get out of Iraq; I think abortion should be a woman’s choice; and, I guess I’m kind of a hippie, so I want someone who would to try to help the environment,” said Chester, who was backing Clinton.
Cooper Livingston, 18, a senior and Hickman’s student body president, helped organize Tuesday’s mock election but remained undecided on the eve of Super Tuesday, his first real election.
“I like McCain on the Republican side, and I like Obama on the Democratic side, but my vote depends on which one of them is going to need more support here in the Missouri primary,” he said Monday. “I’m going to watch the polls before I make my decision.”
Livingston, who eventually chose Obama, wished his underage friends could have participated in Tuesday’s primary rather than just the school’s mock election.
“People who are going to be 18 in time for the actual election should be able to vote in the primary,” Livingston said.
Larry Schuster said he hoped his 18-year-old son would make an informed decision for his first vote.
“I want (my sons) to make decisions based on what people say and how they conduct themselves rather than all the sound bytes,” he said.
For Turner Schuster, Larry’s son and a senior at Hickman, this meant voting on the issues.
“Some people are going to vote for Obama because they want to see a black man in office or for Hillary because they want to finally see a woman as president, but really, I just look at the issue,” he said Monday. “Race or gender isn’t going to have any bearing on how they do things.”
Isiah Bishop, a Hickman senior, said race was an important factor in his vote.
“The fact that there’s a black guy in the race is a big deal for me,” said Bishop, who is black. “It’s important to see that my people have it together.”
Whatever their reasons for getting involved and excited about politics, Thornsberry said she is glad to see her students passionate about their role in shaping democracy at every level, even if some are still too young to vote in an actual election.
“We get the government we deserve, and if we don’t participate and things don’t go our way, then we deserve that,” she said.