Students learn about elections in time for today's registration deadline

October 4, 2010
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This post was written by IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger.

Today is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 2 midterm election in Indiana – it was also the last day for the Marion County clerk to speak with high school students as part of her yVote program about what they need to know to vote, including an opportunity for students who are or will be 18 by Nov. 2 to register.

Clerk Beth White spoke to an AP Government class at Herron High School just north of downtown Indianapolis today about the basics, including who can vote, who they can vote for in this particular election, how they can register to vote, where they can vote, and what they ultimately need to vote.

That included discussions about what kinds of photo IDs are acceptable – the student IDs weren’t acceptable because even though they had photos, even though they didn’t include middle names the first and last name on the ID was possibly close enough to the students’ registered names for a poll volunteer to accept them, and the IDs were government issued (Herron is a public school), they did not have a valid expiration date of month, day, year, just the school year 2010-11.

White also led a discussion about whether prisoners and those with criminal records should be allowed to vote. Of the students White has met with in this class and in 13 other schools around Marion County, opinions on the subject ranged from all people should be able to vote regardless of criminal background, to anyone who has ever been convicted of a crime shouldn’t be able to vote again, she said. However, if someone is in jail awaiting trial and they haven’t yet been convicted, they can vote with assistance from a group the clerk’s office sends to the jails.

She also said while she didn’t mention it to the class, she was aware of a lawsuit in northern Indiana regarding the voting rights of those who had criminal records that could someday change or at least better define the law in Indiana. Currently, it’s unclear regarding whether people with felonies or misdemeanors are included or excluded, only that once someone has served their time and is no longer on parole, they can likely vote in Indiana. The class also discussed how different states have different takes on this.

She added that in another high school, one student said her father was in prison and that during the 2008 presidential election, the two of them would discuss how he was upset he was unable to vote for the first African-American president because he was incarcerated at the time.

Toward the end of the class, students were able to cast a ballot and were given an “I vote I count” sticker. They could vote for president – John Stewart was the Democratic candidate, Stephen Colbert was the Republican candidate, and Jesse “The Body” Ventura was the independent. Colbert won, Stewart was second, and there were a couple write-ins, including one student who said he wrote in “Jesus.”

As for best president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won over Abraham Lincoln “in a landslide,” she said. Oprah Winfrey, the independent candidate, received the most votes for first female president, with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate a close second. Sarah Palin was the Republican candidate.

The Kennedys were voted the best political family, followed by a tie for the Tafts and Clintons for second (participants could vote for two families in this category) and the Bush family was “not even close,” White told students. There was also a write-in for the Roosevelts in this category.

When asked if voters should show ID to vote, 23 voted in favor, and three were opposed. As far as requiring term limits for members of Congress, it was 20-6 in favor of term limits.

All in all, White said after speaking with classes around the county, the part she enjoyed most was seeing the students interact with each other. This particular class was interesting because students tended to be more open about their political views, she said. A couple students who happened to sit on the right side of the classroom were not shy about supporting Republican candidates simply because they were Republican.

She added that of all the classes she has visited, overall the students always seem to enjoy learning about the election process.

Voter registration ends today, including a new online voter registration option. This includes anyone who has moved, has recently changed their name, or hasn’t registered before.

White also mentioned she is still looking for volunteers to work the polls on Election Day – including high school students who are 16 or 17 with at least a 3.0 GPA and with permission from their school and their parents or guardians. For anyone else who would like to volunteer to work the polls, they need to be a registered voter, reside in the county where they want to work, and must go through training. More information about participating in the voting process is available on the clerk’s website, or on the Indiana Secretary of State’s Election Division website.

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