Charlotte Christian School history teacher Steve Hoff arrived at school early Tuesday to oversee a mock election months in the planning.
He wasn’t disappointed when students arrived.
The back of the school’s cafeteria soon buzzed with energy. Elementary school students bounced with excitement as they waited to shake hands with high schoolers dressed as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
Others pumped their arms in the air when they exited mock voting booths.
“That’s exactly the impact I wanted to have on our kids,” Hoff said. “Voting is a big deal.”
Hoff, who organized the mock Election Day at Charlotte Christian with senior Andy Ferguson, oversaw a similar program at a school in California before the 2000 presidential election. He wants to teach students civic responsibility, help them care about the issues and understand that voting is something everyone should do.
Charlotte Christian’s election site rivaled a real polling site in energy, number of campaign signs and volunteers. High school history students played roles ranging from candidate’s wives to Secret Service officers.
A large screen TV showed recordings of the presidential debates on loop, and napkins with American flag designs were taped around the site.
Each of Charlotte Christian’s 993 students registered to vote in the mock election before taking a mock presidential ballot into the booth. They received real “I voted” stickers and took exit polls.
Ferguson, 17, said hopes to make politics part of his own future and “jumped right on board” when he heard about the project.
Ferguson drove all over Charlotte visiting campaign headquarters to collect candidates’ yard signs. He wanted students to be “bombarded with political messages” when they neared the voting booths.
School leaders stress that the mock election was as fair as possible. Staff counted the number of “Obama” and “Romney” signs to make sure each candidate had an equal number.
Ferguson produced brochures about the presidential candidates detailing their lives and stance on issues. School staff signed off on them ensuring they were fair and balanced.
The results of the election were not as important as the process, school leaders said. Teachers have worked with students to show that political rhetoric, unlike much of the current political atmosphere, can be civil and respectful.
“I teach kids that there is a God-honoring way to campaign and advertise oneself,” Hoff said. “The nastiness is something on either side that we don’t respect.”
Hoff already has seen the impact of the mock election in the weeks leading up to it. Parents have emailed to tell him their family dinner table conversation now often revolves around politics. Some high schoolers have told Hoff they are disappointed they won’t turn 18 by Nov. 6.
Students talk about the election at the lunch table and on Facebook. Ferguson said he’s proud that when his fellow classmates express political opinions, they can back them up.
“The grand hope is that when they are 18, they will remember this,” Hoff said. “We’ve made it kind of larger than life to make it fun and something they won’t forget.”
And who won the election? Mitt Romney.