One measurement of the health of our democracy is the participation of the citizens. Unfortunately, voter turnout in the United States, (especially in non-presidential elections) is among the lowest of any democracy in the world. Here at FairVote, we seek to generate a greater focus on that problem starting in our schools- and explore ideas like mock elections to encourage voting from a young age.
There are around 70 million Americans under the age of 18 today. The 1999 New Millennium Report, issued by the National Association of Secretaries of State, found that “55% of youth agree that the schools do not do a very good job of giving young people the information needed to vote”. In order to make it easier for young voters to be involved into democracy, a variety of projects are pursued such as moving the polling ballots onto university campuses, and Election Day Registration. Additionally, mock elections are particularly successful and increasingly utilized idea to increase young participation.
In a previous post, I discussed the practical problems that young people can have in learning about their election choices, but this problem can be addressed by better civic education in schools. Mock elections are one way in which educators seek to energize young people to take an interest in voting.
A mock election is “an election organized for educational or transformative purposes”. Most of the times, they are organized by secondary schools to introduce young people to the different ideals and conceptions of democracy before they become eligible to vote. The elections are designed to give the students a better understanding of democratic institutions like congress or local government, and help prepare them for their role as voters –ideally stimulating future young voters to use their vote.
Being involved into the democratic process is essential for the nation, and mock elections are an important tool because they connect “theory and reality”. Mock elections allow for active teaching, which better engages students’ minds. As an example, we can see in some mock elections that students are more engaged into these issues by pretending to stand as a party candidates, speech writers, or election administrators.
This idealistic vision of mock elections has already yielded positive results: In 2009, the Election Assistance Commission funded several projects, aimed at boosting mock elections in secondary schools. For example, a program in Iowa (called the Polk County Auditor’s Office High School Mock Election) developed a video game simulation in order to let students learn and grow in a mock election process.
Using this alternative teaching tool, student not only gained knowledge via the mock elections but stayed engaged because of the fun way in which the information was presented. Other programs use new social Medias such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Now, the EAC has announced the availability of approximately two million dollars to “develop processes and best practices for coordinating mock elections. The deadline for proposal is February 15, 2011 and this fund will permit to a lot of interesting ideas to grow into interesting projects.
There are also nonprofit organizations that organize their own mock elections. For example, the National Parent/ Student elections, is a collaborative project that organizes elections all over the country. Everyone can participate to these mock elections. This program is very successful and more than 250,000 people use it.
Founded in 1988, Kids Voting USA seeks to introduce students to the concepts of citizenship in the earliest grades and continue throughout their school years, with a particular focus on mock elections. Related projects include Kids Voting Minnesota which held mock elections in 2004 in which nearly 70,000 students participated. (Look for my forthcoming research report on student mock elections with several more examples, and a map for every programs classed by country).
Such programs are all the more important at a time when fewer people trust democracy. We can see that the involvement of students from an early age creates life-long voters. The mock election ideally can “make the new standards relevant to the concerns of election campaigns as well as to everyday life”.