COLUMBIA — A voter hunches low over the table, carefully marking her selections with her right hand and shielding her choices with her left. She is not in a private booth in a silent room but amidst the roaring chaos of a high school commons at lunchtime.
Madeline Siefkas is a sophomore at Rock Bridge High School voting in a national mock election.
Rock Bridge's Young Democrats and Young Republicans hosted a mock election Tuesday as part of the national VOTES 2008 program. Volunteers from the two organizations operated a table in the student commons from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Rock Bridge is the only public school in Missouri that participates in the program.
"I care about the economy and Iraqi War because they affect our future and the future of America," Seifkas said.
The mock election project, Voting Opportunities for Teenagers in Every State, began at Rock Bridge in 1992. Originally, the mock election was part of the Advanced Placement government class. Since then, the program has gravitated toward the Young Democrats and Young Republicans, according to Bill Priest, chair of the Rock Bridge social studies department.
"It is interesting to see how we compare to students in the rest of nation and how we compare to other voters," Priest said. "It seemed like a natural fit for us."
This year's ballots were created by students activities director David Bones, using optical scanning technology. Students filled in bubbles with a dark marker to cast their vote, and then the results were counted mechanically by the copy machine. Bones selected the survey questions from a list of suggestions from the VOTES Web site.
Voting table volunteers followed simple directions: no campaign stickers, no campaign materials on the table or around the voting area, staying positive and being nonpartisan. The voters had only one rule to follow: Do not fold your ballot. During lunch, the voting line was three students deep. There was also a surge of students right before the polls closed.
Out of the 1,736 students currently enrolled at Rock Bridge, 459 votes were collected. In the presidential race, Barack Obama won with 50 percent of the total votes. John McCain followed with 41 percent. Kenny Hulshof led the candidates for governor with 47 percent of the votes, while Jay Nixon had 43 percent.
In addition to voting for president and governor, students answered survey questions about major issues. The questions allowed students to share their opinions on troops in Iraq, the nation's energy crisis, the budget deficit and universal health care.
A majority of the students surveyed said the U.S. economy was the most important issue for the next administration. They also voted that the best solution to the U.S. energy crisis is continuing to invest in renewable sources such as wind and solar power. No opinion was dominant on the issues of American troop withdrawal from Iraq, the budget deficit or universal health care.
"Even though I can't vote, I think it's important to participate in politics because it will impact our future," said Rock Bridge junior Robbie Roach.