More than 245,000 K-12 students got a hands-on lesson in civic duty this year through a partnership between UCF’s Lou Frey Institute and Kids Voting USA.
The students were spread out across 28 school districts that hosted mock elections this year using a ballot that reflected all the statewide races. The ballot was editable so that schools could include local races like school board or county commission. While limited in scale, students flipped the results of Tuesday’s election and sent Andrew Gillum to the governor’s mansions. While the real Senate race could be heading to a recount, students had no trouble selecting Bill Nelson over Rick Scott.
While the ballots don’t contribute to the real result, the value of mock elections is high, said Chris Spinale, Action Civics coordinator at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship.
“Any time you’re able to model a civic experience, it sticks with the kids,” Spinale said. “By providing them the opportunity to participate in a mock election … students have shown a greater proclivity to engage in the real thing.”
The mock election ballots are created soon after their official counterparts and distributed to schools across the state. Each school has a unique identifying number, so students can see the day after the election where their vote fits into the bigger picture. That sense of community is another shared experience with real voting, Spinale explains.
“When the student understands their voice can make a difference, it starts to affect real change,” Spinale said. “They start to understand their role in the process.”
Doug Dobson, Ph.D., is director of the Lou Frey Institute, which advocates and educates for the development of civic and political skills. Voting is at the heart of American representative democracy, he said, and the mock elections allow students to “develop habits of citizenship that will stay with them throughout their lives.”
Spinale echoes his thoughts on citizenship.
“Right now you can look at our students as citizen apprentices. When students better understand what it means to be a citizen, then we have a more effective society,” Spinale said.
Kerstin Hamann, Ph.D., a Pegasus Professor and chair of the Political Science Department, added: “This experience is invaluable as it enhances young people’s understanding of democracy and prepares them as future voters.”