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JDHS students pick Obama - by a lot

Electoral college simulation is educational experience for high schoolers

Posted: November 4, 2012 - 6:32pm  |  Updated: November 5, 2012 - 1:01am
The electoral college map resulting from the Juneau-Douglas high 
School vote.  Mark D. Miller / Juneau Empire
Mark D. Miller / Juneau Empire
The electoral college map resulting from the Juneau-Douglas high School vote.

Well, the votes are in, and it wasn’t even close.

President Barack Obama won almost 65 percent of all votes cast and swept to a massive 506 to 32 win in the Electoral College, utterly wiping out Republican challenger Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts.

But lest you think you have slept through Tuesday and woken up to either a nightmare scenario or an Election Day miracle, relax — Obama’s big win was among Juneau-Douglas High School students on Friday.

Teacher Gary Lehnhart said JDHS conducted an Electoral College vote simulation Friday.

Classrooms of students, some of them broken up into smaller groups, represented each state and the District of Columbia. The largest groups stood in for the populous, vote-rich states of California and Texas, while the smallest, a “group” of one student, serving as Wyoming, the least populous state.

While students confronted challenging scenarios, including blank ballots, write-in votes — popular choices included New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow; Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert; and the actual Libertarian Party candidate for president, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson — and questioned ballots, Leinhart called the conclusion “anticlimactic.”

“We eventually counted the votes, and unfortunately, it was a landslide,” Lehnhart said. It was the biggest blowout since he has started conducting the simulation, he remarked.

“This is the fourth time that I’ve done this, and the Democrats don’t always win,” Lehnhart added.

Lehnhart said “one of the big laughs of the day” came when, after a torrent of Obama “states” came in — including California, Texas and Florida — the first Romney state to be called was Utah, the real-world version of which is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which Romney belongs, and is among the most reliably Republican states in the country.

The quirky voting system of Nebraska, which allocates three of its five electoral votes by congressional district, also came into play.

“We also got to split Nebraska, so that was a good learning experience,” said Lehnhart. “We got to split Nebraska four to one.”

In 2008, then-Sen. Obama, D-Ill., surprised prognosticators when he eked out a victory in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District and thus carried one of its five electoral votes.

JDHS duplicated that result Friday, with Romney carrying four of Nebraska’s electoral votes and Obama getting one.

In addition to four electoral votes from Nebraska and six from Utah, Romney also won Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota, Rhode Island and West Virginia in the simulation.

Coincidentally or not, aside from Rhode Island, all of those states are expected to go for Romney in the actual election.

Lehnhart collected comments from students on the simulation and its outcome, some of which he shared with the Juneau Empire.

Student Ruby Steedle wrote, “Our town being liberal and our school’s average age being well below the national average, it wasn’t that shocking that it was a landslide to Obama. But despite the overwhelming turnout for Obama, we were still able to see the skew due to the Electoral College, which I think was a good learning experience for us.”

Emma Good, parsing the results, wrote, “The majority of students that go to JDHS live downtown or on Douglas now because of the new high school in the (Mendenhall) Valley,” referring to Thunder Mountain High School, which opened in 2008. Good added, “Typically (Democrats) live by JD which would account for the large number of votes toward Obama and not Romney. TMHS would probably be more even or Romney would win.”

Madison Truitt was blunter in her assessment.

“Obama is big with young adults,” Truitt wrote. “This is a high school. Obviously Obama won.”

While for JDHS, the election is over and the results were decisive, Lehnhart said the simulation is not the end of the exercise altogether for his students.

“The next assignment is to show how few votes it takes to change the outcome of the election, which is the whole point of teaching the Electoral College,” said Lehnhart, whose American History classes for honors students hosted the simulation Friday.

The Electoral College voting system, which was enshrined in the United States Constitution to ensure that small states have a say in choosing the president, has faced criticism for its heavy emphasis on “swing states”: a handful of closely contested battlegrounds whose voters decide the ultimate outcome of the election, while dozens of other states go uncontested because their political leanings are not considered to be in any doubt.

The actual day of the election is Tuesday, when voters across the country will choose the next president. In Alaska, voters will also decide whether to elect longtime Republican Rep. Don Young to another two-year term in Congress. Young’s Democratic opponent is Rep. Sharon Cissna of Anchorage.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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