CHIPLEY – Students at Roulhac Middle School received their first real-life experience with the voting process on Thursday when the Washington County Elections Office partnered with RMS staff to bring voting equipment onsite for the student government election.
Student Government Association (SGA) sponsors Emily Clark and Pam Sowell reached out to the Elections Office in an effort to help bring classroom lessons to life.
Clark, who worked for more than three years as Legislative Assistant to Representative Brad Drake, decided to bring her experience back to her hometown of Chipley, having recently accepted the position of seventh-grade Civics teacher.
Clark says her students held a mock election earlier this year, and she is grateful the Elections Office agreed to help facilitate a real election experience for all RMS students.
“In my Civics class, we have really talked a lot about how it is important for us to get our voices heard, and one way to do that is to vote,” said Clark. “We talked a lot about the big honor it is and how there are so many people who wish they could vote but don’t have that privilege. The kids needed an opportunity to see what it was really like to vote, to understand the importance of voting, and why, as citizens, it is their responsibility and honor to do so.”
Students cast their ballots for their SGA representatives during Thursday’s election, selecting peers to serve as President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.
Clark says through the experience, many students may inspire their parents to vote as well.
“A lot of these kids are going to go home and encourage their parents to go out and vote or to sign up to vote,” she said. “In the long run, I feel this will not only help our kids vote, but also help some parents understand the importance of voting as well.”
While teachers and Elections Office representatives supervised the activity, the election was completely peer-led. From checking in voters and verifying students IDs, to helping students feed their ballots into the ballot reader, each traditional poll worker role was served by students helping their peers through the process.
Seventh-grader Aubrey Deal says the experience was both fun and meaningful.
“I think it’s beneficial because in the real world, we need to vote, and this teaches us how to do it,” said Deal. “We have real machinery and voting booths here. It’s the real process. Every vote matters, so I think we should use our right to wisely and choose our leaders, not just at our school, but for our country. Many other countries don’t have that privilege, and we do.”
Supervisor of Elections Carol Finch Rudd says she and her staff are excited to take advantage of opportunities to interact with the community’s youth.
“Getting them involved and helping them understand the voting process is so important,” said Rudd. “Our office brings the actual voting equipment and official balloting materials on-site so that students have a more real experience. By having a chance to introduce them to the voting equipment and the simplicity of voting, I fully believe it takes away any hesitation of coming in to vote when they reach 18.”
“In years past, we have also gone into our elementary schools to have hands on with children there, making certain materials were age appropriate,” she added. “Nothing makes me prouder than when I have a student come in to register to vote who remembers these experiences.”
Rudd says she and her staff are available to speak with students at any of the county’s schools and encourages interested teachers to reach out to her office at 850-638-6238.