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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

BRIAN O’CONNOR, 7, a second grader at Liberty Elementary School, puts in his vote for NYS governor during a mock election Tuesday at the school. O’Connor said he voted for George Pataki.

Students Have
Their Say

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — November 8, 2002 – The votes are in, and it was George Pataki by a landslide.
The youngsters at the Liberty Elementary School mirrored the state’s electorate Tuesday, casting their votes for the three candidates vying for the NYS governor’s seat.
The results came back Wednesday morning with Pataki leading with 240 votes, and his opponent, Democrat H. Carl McCall, following with 136 votes.
Independent Tom Golisano garnered 89 ballots cast by the youngsters.
Tuesday’s mock election at the school was a chance for the students in the Main Street school to get into the election fever sweeping the country.
Though votes were all unofficial, and the children were only able to decide on the best candidate for governor, it was a way for teachers to explain the country’s electoral process.
“I think it’s important for kids to understand our voting process,” explained Maureen Christian, the first grade teacher who suggested setting up an election booth this year. “I don’t think it’s ever too early to start teaching them.”
In years past, the school has held fake elections to coincide with the adults casting their ballots for the country’s new president. In fact, many of the youngsters in the first through fourth grade school took part in the 2000 election – either at Liberty Elementary School or the White Sulphur Springs primary school up the road.
But this was the first time the Main Street teachers decided to get into the swing of things on the gubernatorial election day.
“Even though it’s just a governor’s race and not a vote for the president, it’s important for them to understand that the governor is the head of the state and what he does,” Christian explained.
“Really at this age, what they’re seeing is how adults go through the process.”
And most of the youngsters admitted they were making their choices based on the numerous campaign ads that filled the television and radio airwaves this year, or a comment they overheard from their parents.
Other children chose the candidate they knew had already been in office because they assumed he had experience.
“I thought it would be nice to have the same governor for a third time,” said 7-year-old Cherylyn Grisafe, a second grader in Mrs. McCann’s class.
“I think I picked the one my mom picked,” revealed Brenna O’Malley, another 7-year-old in the second grade classroom.
To help the children make their choices, Carmela Staropoli, a school grandmother in the foster grandmother program, set up a voting machine donated for the day by Tim Hill at the Board of Elections office at the county government center.
Photos of the three candidates were set up so students could recognize the men they’d seen on television ads or in the newspaper and link them with a name on the ballot box.
“They’ve heard the names, they’ve seen the pictures,” noted Assistant Principal Amy Barkley, “now’s their chance to vote.”
Children were given privacy by their peers, and each was allowed to approach the voting table, choose a slip of paper with their candidate of choice written on it, and slip it into a can to cast their vote.
Staropoli stood by as a monitor to make sure no one attempted to vote twice in one day.
By the end of the day, more than 400 students had entered their votes and returned to class eager to find out the results.
And the only complaint for the day?
“I wanted to vote for Jake Gunther,” one student told Staropoli.

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