Democrats dominate in Delaware student mock election

Students across the state colored their ballots blue in this year’s mock election.

Nearly 9,000 students in grades four through 12 participated in the vote, which ran Oct. 29 and 30.

“I think we have to give students the opportunity to have experiences in social studies. This is one great example,” said Darren Guido, supervisor of instruction for Caesar Rodney School District. “It’s a mock election but in a few years, they’ll be the ones who should be going to the polls. So hopefully they’ve had a really good experience and they prepared themselves to understand the candidates and the whole voting process and that they continue on to do that.”

The mock election, which has nearly a 20-year legacy in Delaware, was sponsored by the Institute for Public Administration’s Democracy Project at the University of Delaware, the Social Studies Coalition of Delaware and the Delaware Department of Elections.

Thirteen districts and three charter schools, representing all three counties, participated in the election.

Democratic candidates swept the elections in eight districts and three charters. Republican candidates swept in one district. Candidates from both parties won in four districts. The election for U.S. Senate resulted in a tie in one district, otherwise Democrat Chris Coons defeated Republican Lauren Witzke.

For the country’s top office, Joe Biden cruised to a victory with 71% of the total vote, while Donald Trump collected 25%. Green Party candidate Howle Hawkens received 2% of all votes and Jo Jorgensen, Libertarian, received just less than 2%.

Gov. John Carney earned re-election in the minds of students, with 61% of the vote over Republican challenger Julianne Murray, at 22%. Independent Kathy DeMatteis secured 10% of the vote, while Libertarian John Machurek earned 5%.

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long likewise was awarded another term by students, with about 64% of the vote. Donyale Hall picked up 36% of the vote.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Coons won his race with 58% of the student vote. Republican candidate Lauren Witzke earned 27% of student votes. Independent candidate Mark Turley received about 8% of the vote, followed by Libertarian candidate Nadine Frost, with 5%.

Students favored re-election for Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, with 54% of the vote, beating out Republican opponent Lee Murphy, who earned 29% of the vote. Catherine Purcell, an independent, earned 8% and Libertarian David Rogers earned 7%.

Students also cast their ballots widely in favor of incumbent Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro, with 60% of the vote, versus Republican Julia Pillsbury, who earned 39%.

When students across the state logged on last week, they were shown a screen that had their local candidates’ photos, names and parties, as well as the presidential election. They entered a student code, which restricted them to voting only once. Students selected their votes by clicking on a circle next to their preferred candidate’s name.

The goal was to make the interface as unbiased as possible. The “ballot” page is kept neutral as possible, said Fran O’Malley, a policy scientist in the Institute for Public Administration at the University of Delaware.

The results were released Monday so students would be able to watch along Tuesday as voters — who haven’t yet cast their ballot early or by mail — have their say across the country.

For many of the districts that participated, it went beyond students logging on to cast their own votes.

Appoquinimink had more than 30 different lessons around voting — how government affects its citizens, how citizens can affect their government, the power of voting, the electoral college, redistricting and more. Capital administrators said the district builds the foundation for voting as early as elementary school, but ramps up the education as the election looms large.

In Caesar Rodney, the district found it important for students to understand the candidates and offices, Mr. Guido said.

“It’s important that they understand why they’re doing this, not just because it’s something that, ‘I’ve been seeing on the television or hearing about on the radio or seeing it on social media,’ but this really is our opportunity to have a voice in our government. We need to be aware of who is representing us,” he said. “[The lessons are] giving that background, and the importance of why we vote as citizens.”

For the last several weeks, educators have navigated talking about the election, and the importance of voting, in the midst of a charged and divisive cycle.

“The hard part, for any teacher, is teaching these skills without getting into some of the more difficult discussions, especially in a more polarized election,” said Mario Tibero, social studies specialist for Appoquinimink School District. “This is a testament to the teachers who do this because it’s not easy.”

Mary Murrian, who coordinated the mock election for Capital, said the teachers are able to grapple with giving skills without discussing personal feelings toward a subject.

“I think [teachers] have a good handle on just promoting the facts and also giving kids the resources to go to find out their own information,” she said.

The goal is for voting to become a lifelong habit. This summer, Caesar Rodney pledged to help register its eligible voters in a letter laying out initiatives for the district and high school, stoked by student activism.

Statewide, high schoolers will be among those ballots counted today.

“Hopefully, our students who are 18 are going to get out there and exercise their opportunity to vote. Hopefully those kids who are 17 and can’t vote, they’re talking to the parents or their older brothers and sisters or aunts and uncles and they’re making sure that they get out to vote,” Mr. Guido said.

“It’s important that we have a say in our government. If we like what’s happening, we continue to support the people who are in office. If we don’t like what’s happening, we vote for people who we think would do a better job.”