Ketchikan High School students spent early this past week participating in their own mock local election in the classroom, and also lent a hand at voting precincts as Ketchikan residents cast their votes in the local elections on Oct. 5.
The classroom elections took place in David Mitchel and Susan Stone's government classes at Kayhi on Monday, just ahead of the community's local elections. The next day, a handful of those students served as volunteers at the regular polls with the Youth Vote Ambassador program.
Kayhi's David Mitchel spoke with the Daily News last week about the election held in his classroom.
Classroom election experience
The mock elections took place one day ahead of the local elections that decided who would fill seats on the Ketchikan School Board, Ketchikan City Council, Saxman City Council and Ketchikan Borough Assembly.
Mitchel explained that the mock election was held on Monday so that the students would be able to use a real voting booth to cast their vote in the classroom.
"A lot of students going in don't know how the booth works," Mitchel said. "They see these things, they don't know how it works. So hopefully just guiding them through the process, they're more familiar and more comfortable if they've never been with their parents or anything else. And we'll have more future voters."
To research the local candidates, the students spent a few days using local media to decide who they wanted to vote for, as well as which of the two propositions on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough ballot to support.
"Usually, we're able to have the candidates come in-person and do that kind of meet-and-greet ... and go around and talk to them for several minutes, so we tried the best we could to get (students) other information," Mitchel commented.
And when the votes were counted, Mitchel said the students' voter response was very similar to how Ketchikan residents voted in the actual local election.
"I think the interesting thing is they're remarkably accurate," Mitchel said.
He said that could be because the students attend a public school, and their views on issues mirror that of their community.
"And I think, like we tell them, they're pretty good judges of what they think the community needs," Mitchel explained. "They live here, and they hear what the candidates have to say, how they say it, and I think, just like the community, I think they are able to make pretty good selections based on their experiences. I think they are actually pretty fair. There's always differences — things that maybe, what's important to an 18-year-old isn't to the rest of the community."
Kayhi senior Alex Anderson told the Daily News that during class, the students were presented with information about the candidates and propositions that would appear on the local ballots.
"And we just read up on that, and kind of formed an opinion," Anderson said. "And you know, we voted kind of normally how you would in a real election. And then me and another student tallied it up and we got our results."
Anderson said that the process of researching candidates "and just having an idea of who you want to vote for" is something that can be carried into the actual local election once students are of voting age.
Kayhi senior Maggie Boehlert said that the mock election was very similar to the real one, which she was able to vote in this year.
"We got a register with all of our names on it in the class, and then we highlight it and sign it, just like at the real election, and then we just got our ballot in a little privacy sheet and we went into the (booth) and we all voted," Boehlert explained.
Boehlert also commented on how similar the results of the Kayhi students' and local elections turned out.
"I think that us younger people have a pretty good eye, I guess, for judging people and stuff, so we read the people very well, I think," she said.
Youth Vote Ambassador Program
Along with participating in a mock voting process on Monday, some Kayhi students got first-hand elections experience as part of the local Youth Vote Ambassador program.
Ketchikan Gateway Borough Clerk Kacie Paxton helped to organize the program this year.
"I reached out to the government teachers to ask them to invite their students to apply for the Youth Vote Ambassador program," Paxton told the Daily News during a recent phone interview. "And they did. They provided me with several students and I was able to employ nine of them. I plugged them in boroughwide to our various precincts and they did an absolutely tremendous job."
Borough staff helped to train the students for election day, and then they set to work.
"They do any of the roles that are assigned to poll workers," Paxton said.
At the North Tongass 1 voting precinct, students could be seen assisting with the voting register or checking IDs.
At the Ketchikan 3 precinct, students helped organize questioned ballots and assisting with the voting register, similar to the roles of students helping out at the Ketchikan 1 and Ketchikan 2 precincts.
Paxton said that the students provided relief during a time where more people were expected to be unable to help with the elections due to COVID-19.
"And sure enough, we did (need help)," Paxton said. "Thankfully, David Mitchel and Susan Stone gave me a nice list of students and of the list that they gave me, all of the available students, I used all of them."
This past year — which featured primary, general and national elections — was the first year of the program in Ketchikan, according to Paxton.
"I think I might have only used one or two for the election last year," Paxton said.