In an attempt to get seniors at Pierson High School registered to vote, the League of Women Voters (LWV) visited the school on Tuesday with an exercise to demonstrate the importance of the voting process.
The demonstration mirrored many recent elections, with differing opinions as far right — and left — as it gets.
The presentation started in the Pierson auditorium with a brief introduction on the history of voting in this country. Judy Roth, the executive vice president of the LWV of the Hamptons, first began by telling the students voting is one of the league’s most important functions.
Judie Gorenstein, LWV Huntington president, then asked the kids to imagine there were no Ipods and no Facebook. She told the students that she was King George and she had all the power and the rest of the room had none. She asked the kids if that was fair — all the students yelled out that it wasn’t.
She then asked the students to imagine being fast forwarded through time to 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was adopted. She said then, white men were able to vote. She asked all the white male students in the graduating class to step on stage. Those left in the audience were asked if they thought that was fair — they all agreed it wasn’t.
Gorenstein then asked all the men to step on the stage — and told them they all had the right to vote. Finally, she explained that it wasn’t until 1920 that women had the right to vote. At that point all the students joined her on stage.
“Now, everyone has the right to vote,” she said.
Roth then asked Dr. Jon Baer, Pierson Government and Economics teacher who helped organize the event, to choose two people to act as if they were running for president.
He chose seniors Nick DePetris and Casey Crowley to act as the candidates.
Roth told them to pay close attention to the beliefs of their audience and to take notes as she handed them notebooks and pens.
Roth asked the remaining kids to voice their opinions about current controversial topics including gay marriage, nuclear energy, abortion and music censorship. They were even asked about bailout bonuses for AIG employees.
Just like the real world, there was a division of opinions among the students on many of those issues. During the discussion on abortion, one senior yelled out, “Don’t kill babies,” while another senior said it’s a choice that women should be allowed to maintain. Others said they were pro-life, but felt women should still have the freedom to choose.
Gorenstein intervened, offering to divide the differing opinions on abortion three ways — pro-life, pro-choice, or certain limitations on abortions. She said this would give the pretend candidates a better understanding of what the majority of the audience thinks.
“This is important because often candidates will change their speeches, depending on their audience,” she said.
Roth also asked the kids about music censorship. The students seemed to be torn on whether the industry should police explicit content or let parents do it.
One student argued, “music shouldn’t be regulated because it is a way of expressing yourself.” Another said the music industry should not be blamed for a lack of parenting.
But a fellow senior suggested parents should have the right to limit what a child under 18 can listen to.
The AIG issue was also a big topic with divided opinions, after the students collectively responded to the questions, the candidates were asked to give a short speech for their faux presidency.
First up was DePetris, who spoke to the issues of abortion and AIG. He said he supported a woman’s right to choose, but did not agree with the $180 million in bonuses for AIG employees.
Crowley, on the other hand, said he was against abortion, and believed that AIG should not have been given the money in the first place. But he argued the $180 million was contracted, so if AIG doesn’t provide those bonuses, the company would end up in court.
Before the students were told to vote for their fake president, nearly every third student was told they weren’t allowed to vote.
Roth explained this represented the real numbers of eligible citizens who choose not to vote.
After the kids considered both candidates and their beliefs, they voted and DePetris won.
In hopes this would encourage students to vote, Roth and other LWV representatives devoted the rest of the assembly to registering kids to vote who were eligible. Of the 50 or so students, approximately 40 of them filled out paperwork to register, according Baer.