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Trump comes out ahead in Willmar High School mock election

Key Club member Jessa Hanson hands an "I Voted" sticker to a fellow Willmar student after she deposited her ballot Tuesday in the mock election at Willmar Senior High School. Briana Sanchez / Tribune1 / 6
Student Maddie Thaden, an 11th-grader, looks at the ballot Tuesday during the mock election at Willmar Senior High. Statewide, 282 high schools across the state are participating in Minnesota Students Vote 2016, an effort of the secretary of state’s office. Briana Sanchez / Tribune2 / 6
Students crowd the halls Tuesday during their lunch hour for a mock election Tuesday at Willmar Senior High. Kiwanis members from the community helped the Key Club students organize a polling station to mimic the system adult voters will use Nov. 8. Briana Sanchez / Tribune3 / 6
Student Ugbad Abdi, a 10th-grader, walks into a voting booth Tuesday at Willmar Senior High during a mock election. Students marked their ballots and put them in a ballot box similar to a standard polling place. Briana Sanchez / Tribune4 / 6
Heidi Schmitz, 10th-grade student at Willmar Senior High School, writes her name down on a piece of paper in order to "register" to vote. Schmitz participated in a mock election Tuesday at the school. Briana Sanchez / Tribune5 / 6
Key Club members at Willmar Senior High staff the polling station Tuesday for a mock election Tuesday. The polling station was organized to mimic the system adult voters will use Nov. 8. Briana Sanchez / Tribune6 / 6

WILLMAR — Donald Trump got the most votes in a mock presidential election Tuesday at Willmar Senior High School, but Hillary Clinton was fewer than 30 votes behind.

About 40 percent of the school's 1,200 students participated in the election, part of a first-ever statewide mock election in the state's high schools. Statewide, 282 high schools across the state are participating in Minnesota Students Vote 2016, an effort of the secretary of state's office. Statewide results will be released Nov. 1.

Individual schools could choose how they wanted to conduct the election. In Willmar, students visited a polling station outside the cafeteria during their lunch periods.

During the school's four lunch periods, 514 students cast ballots. Trump was at the top with 207 votes, to Clinton's 179 votes. Others receiving votes included 41 for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and 17 for Dan Vacek, the candidate for the Legal Marijuana Now Party. Thirty-six ballots had write-in votes, and all other candidates on the ballot polled in single digits.

With help of the school's Key Club, sponsored by Kiwanis in Willmar, the polling station was organized to mimic the system adult voters will use Nov. 8.

Four voting booths stood in the hall between the cafeteria and the gym during lunch periods.

Key Club members checked students in on a master list of students. Student voters received a receipt which they turned in for a ballot.

Each of them entered a booth through a red, white and blue striped canvas curtain to mark the ballot. They slid their ballots into a ballot box, and each received a traditional red-and-white "I Voted" sticker.

"I think everybody should get the chance to vote," said MaKenna Taylor, who was leaving the polling place with friends Anna Rice and Dylan Nyland, all 10th-graders. "Kids pay attention, too." Kids may be more open-minded to different candidates than adults are, she added.

All said they were glad to be able to cast ballots. "Then adults know what kids think," Rice said.

Nyland said he had found that some students "fall in love" with a candidate because of one thing he or she said. For instance, some teens favored Democrat Bernie Sanders because he said he wanted to legalize marijuana, he said.

Principal Paul Schmitz said very few of the students are old enough to vote in the election this fall, so the mock election is their chance.

The authentic setup is "giving them exposure to our democracy," he said. Four years from now, he said, he hopes to be able to use the full ballot in a mock election.

Key Club President Grace Krall and Vice President Carly Hulstein said they were glad to help when the organization was asked to watch over the polling place. Both are 17 and won't be able to vote officially this year.

Krall said she liked the polling place. "I think it's a cool way to know how it's done," she added.

"I think it's good to get people involved in this sort of thing," Hulstein said. "We are more informed than people think."

Kiwanis volunteers assisting at the polling place were Fran Hussong, Carole Schmiesing and Dewey Bock. School social worker Sheri Pederson, the Key Club adviser, also helped usher students through the process.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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