LINCOLN — As voters line up at the polls for election day in 2022, students in Lincoln Public Schools have already cast their votes in the 30th year of LPS’s Student Vote.
While the votes won’t impact the Nov. 8 election results, 19,698 students across LPS elementary, middle and high schools voluntarily made their voices heard. Only fourth and fifth graders voted in elementary schools, while a non-LPS school — Lincoln Christian — is also included in the total.
Students voted for governor, Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District and the two ballot initiatives on requiring photo ID for elections in Nebraska and incrementally increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026.
- Governor: Democrat Carol Blood won 45% of the vote over Republican Jim Pillen and Libertarian Scott Zimmerman.
- Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District: Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks won 54% of the vote over Republican Mike Flood, the incumbent.
- Students also overwhelmingly supported requiring voter ID, 63%, and increasing the state’s minimum wage, 74%.
Fourth and fifth graders at Lakeview Elementary buzzed in the halls while participating in the electoral process.
Fourth graders Sofia Domico, 9, and Leena Parks, 10, each said they were excited — while slightly scared — to join the process.
“I feel excited because they let us experience it before we actually have to do it,” Sofia said.
Leena said people would not know who to make president or to fill the government if no one voted, so she felt it was fun to vote in her first election.
“I feel like it’s important to vote because you get to have your voice heard out and you get to have people understand what you’re saying,” Leena said.
Three fifth graders — Carson Guillotte, 10; Houston Sanchez, 10; and Ayviana Sigowa, 10 — were chosen to help watch a sign-in table for fourth graders before voting. Later, they got to cast their own ballots as well.
“It feels like a good opportunity to vote so we know what it’s like to vote because it’s a student vote and 18 and older is a little bit different,” Ayviana said.
Lakeview students supported Blood (41%) over Pillen (38%) and Zimmerman (22%) and Flood (56%) over Pansing Brooks (44%). The 117 voting students also supported requiring voter ID (78%) and increasing Nebraska’s minimum wage (62%), though not every student cast a vote for a candidate or initiative.
“Better community members”
Katie Nelson, a Lakeview fifth-grade teacher who has Carson, Houston and Ayviana in her class, said it’s important for younger students to build background knowledge and understand the voting process.
“I love that students are having the opportunity to better understand the process of voting as well as understanding the importance of voting and having your voice heard,” Nelson said.
Her favorite moment from Student Vote is seeing how students find interest in candidates and try to find one that stands for their beliefs.
Teachers do not tell students who to vote for, Nelson said. Instead, Student Vote is about starting conversations — what the political parties are, what they stand for, how to vote and why it’s important to vote — and using candidate websites to spark conversations among students.
Jaci Kellison, the K-12 curriculum specialist for social studies in LPS, said students gain increasing levels of sophistication with each progressive election they vote in while in LPS. Over time, and even when they are seniors in high school who may be eligible to vote, they’ll know what to do.
“I just get to kind of oversee the whole process but the real magic happens here in the buildings with how they kind of interpret it and implement it in each building,” Kellison said. “So that’s really neat to see.”
Each school gets to decide how to conduct the election, with Lakeview setting up its own polling place with five voting locations. Students voted on their Chromebooks, but Kellison said the excitement is evident across fourth graders to seniors in high school.
“My absolute favorite thing is seeing the excitement on the day of Student Vote,” Kellison said. “Being out in the buildings and seeing the students just really take pride in what they’ve prepared and their jobs and what they’re doing.”
Since 1992, students have joined the process, but the COVID-19 pandemic limited engagement with the event. Lakeview principal Susan Hershberger said it means a lot to be opening conversations for students and encouraging conversations.
“I feel like we are training and teaching younger students how to vote and what it means to vote and the importance of taking the time to not only vote, but to have an informed vote,” Hershberger said.
Expanding the vote with a bigger opportunity — as a middle-sized but tight, family-knit school — is important to foster the community and invite people in, Hershberger said.
“We’re getting back to helping kids be just better community members, and this is part of it,” Hershberger said.
Home reflections and habitual voting
Two University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professors said the Student Vote is an example of political socialization, which argues that environmental agents — friends, family and institutions like schools and media — impact political attitudes and behaviors.
Professor Kevin Smith, chair of the Department of Political Science, said younger students certainly are picking up more on what parents and other adults are saying around them, while older students may have some more independent thoughts.
“I think it just sort of catches the general tenor of not just parents but sort of the larger community that a school reflects,” Smith said.
Professor John Hibbing said the vote represented a small population reflective of mainly people in Lincoln who send their children to Lincoln Public Schools. Extending those results outward — like arguing Blood will hold the same margins statewide — becomes shakier, he said, and students in private or parochial schools, like Lincoln Christian, may be quite different.
Hibbing said he’s unaware if research demonstrates the programs actually increase voting as a habit, though some argue voting consecutively increases the tendency to vote again.
“Seems to me they can’t hurt anything,” Hibbing said. “And if they get the students a little bit fired up about things and thinking about it, asking their parents questions and kind of understanding what it means to cast a vote, it’s worth a try.”
Opening up those conversations to a culture of tolerant and informed debate does not seem to have a downside, Smith added, and it’s important to show candidates lose but there are always future elections.
“Anything we can do to build that sort of attitude towards the democratic process I think is a healthy and worthwhile thing to do,” Smith said.
Breaking down the vote
Overall, Blood and Pansing Brooks won 52 and 42 LPS schools respectively, which includes focus programs, education centers and The Career Academy. Students who attend one of the specialized academic programs have their votes counted for each area, though the total includes their vote only once. Pillen and Flood won 11 and 20 precinct-level areas, as well as sweeping Lincoln Christian, the only non-LPS entity.
Students approved voter ID across 61 of 66 schools and minimum wage across all 66 areas. Of the five areas that voted against requiring photo ID, all but one voted for Blood and Pansing Brooks. Students at the Donald D. Sherrill Education Center split for Blood and Flood.
Lincoln Christian students voted to require photo ID but voted against increasing the minimum wage, the only group of students to do so.
While split-ticket voting has become more rare for adults in general elections, 14 areas did split between Republican and Democratic candidates for governor and Congress. Eleven of the areas voted for Blood and Flood while three voted for Pillen and Pansing Brooks. Blood and Pansing Brooks won 39 schools together while Pillen and Flood won seven.
Hibbing and Hershberger noted students could have voted for Blood and Flood due to the rhyme of their names, or for a number of non-policy reasons, though Hershberger said she hadn’t heard any students voice the rhyme as a reason for the vote.
There were also four ties between Flood and Pansing Brooks at Holmes, Prescott and Kahoa Elementary schools and at the Yankee Hill Education Center. For governor, voters split evenly between Pillen and Zimmerman and Pillen and Blood at Yankee Hill and Campbell Elementary, respectively. Twenty-seven students at Huntington Elementary divided nine votes each for Pillen, Blood and Zimmerman.
Aggregating the data for each school type, students in middle schools appeared more likely to support Pillen (34%) and Zimmerman (22%) than Blood (44%), compared to elementary and high schools. However, Blood did increase her support marginally among high schoolers (46%) than elementary school students (45%).
Middle schoolers also appeared less likely to support requiring voter ID (59%) than students in elementary (63%) and high school (66%).
Support for minimum wage also increased across grade levels with 69% of elementary students, 75% of middle schoolers and 79% of high schoolers, with these students entering the workforce.