Students take a political standFirst-year group organizes mock election
Camden — “Politics can seem so untouchable sometimes,” Carolin Helmholtz, a sophomore at Camden Hills Regional High School said Friday, Nov. 2.
She and about a dozen classmates decided this year to do something to change that attitude by forming the Political Affairs Forum, a group whose original intention was to provide a forum for debates. Senior Emily Ruger proposed the original idea and heads up the group.
“People should be disagreeing with each other left and right,” she said, adding she has learned the most about politics by talking about issues and hearing perspectives from both sides.
Teacher Keri Vilchinsky offered supervision for the group after school and said she was glad to be a part of the students' movement.
“This is the group that made it happen,” Vilchinsky said, noting numerous efforts — all within about three weeks — to get students involved in the political process, including a mock election last week.
Vilchinsky said members of the Political Affairs Forum arranged to borrow five official voting booths from the town of Rockport as well as three privacy screens from Camden, in addition to creating and decorating several of their own voting booths.
Camden Hills Regional High School mock election results:
Johnson, 5 votes, 2 percent
Obama, 212 votes, 69 percent
Romney, 82 votes, 27 percent
Stein, 9 votes, 2 percent
Courtney, 71 votes, 23 percent
Pingree, 237 votes, 77 percent
Dalton, 11 votes, 3.7 percent
Dill, 73 votes, 24.3 percent
Dodge, 5 votes, 1.7 percent
King, 143 votes, 47.5 percent
Summers, 64 votes, 21.3 percent
Woods, 5 votes, 1.7 percent
Question 1, same-sex marriage:
Yes, 249 votes, 78.8 percent
No, 67 votes, 21.2 percent
Question 2, education bond:
Yes, 161 votes, 52 percent
No, 148 votes, 48 percent
Question 3, land bond
Yes, 219 votes, 73 percent
No, 80 votes, 27 percent
Question 4, highway bond
Yes, 191 votes, 61 percent
No, 120 votes, 39 percent
Question 5, water bond
Yes, 205 votes, 67 percent
No, 103 votes, 33 percent
Results calculated and provided by Political Affairs Forum.
“[The state coordinators of mock elections] wanted us to hand out pieces of paper in homeroom,” Ruger said, adding the group wanted to make the experience as real as possible.
Members of the group agree that students — and adult voters — should research the issues and vote according to their own beliefs rather than “regurgitating” party lines and saying “I'm a Republican so I vote Republican,” Junior Annie Brady said.
“This helps us talk about different views,” Senior Eddie Socker said.
The students and teacher alike were somewhat surprised at the reaction of several students during the mock election process.
“The [voting] kids didn't want to hand ballots to [Political Affairs Forum] students,” Vilchinsky said.
“A lot of people folded ballots because they wanted it to be private,” Senior Jordan Knowlton said.
Junior Abby Blakeley noted the importance of each vote and said, “We can change [the future] for ourselves...within the state or town, you can make a difference.”
She and Knowlton agreed that younger voters may be intimidated by those with opposing views.
“The younger they are, the less they care or [they] are scared,” Knowlton said, while Blakeley added, “I'm 16, I still have two years. [But] I'm scared of being attacked [for political views].”
The Political Affairs Forum has allowed discussion of different views without students feeling ganged up on.
“Knowing the other side is good — I don't like talking about stuff I don't know about,” Knowlton said.
The group was responsible for tallying the mock election results and is looking forward to seeing how the student vote compares with the state and national results.
Beyond the presidential election this week, the group plans to continue meeting. Several students expressed the feeling the group is an outlet.
“[There were] voices raised in passion during the first meeting,” Vilchinsky said.
“We walk in as friends and walk out as friends. We all want the same thing — a better country,” Knowlton said.
“I think the Political Affairs Forum is a marvelous group because it gets people who might not normally be interested in politics interested,” said student Matt Clark.
Socker said helping students become informed about issues is important.
“Getting the community involved in politics has been one of the goals,” Ruger said. “People don't realize how much politics affect their lives, but it does...Politics doesn't end once elections are over.”
Members of the group include Clark, freshman Laszlo Steinhoff; sophomores Eva Ritchie and Helmholtz; juniors Taylor Benner, Brady and Blakeley; and seniors CeCe Beck, Socker, Ruger, and Knowlton.
Camden Herald Associate Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.