BANGOR, Maine — Jacob Moore and Adam Strang cast opposite votes for president Thursday.
Shortly afterward, they proceeded to debate the merits of each candidate with remarkable respect and open-mindedness.
“I like the way [Barack Obama] connects with youths,” said Moore.
“I like that [John McCain] wants to keep troops in Iraq to finish the job,” Strang countered.
Both agreed that McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, is not ready to assume the presidency should something happen to the 72-year-old Arizona senator.
The general electorate could learn a lot from two 13-year-olds who are still five years away from being able to cast ballots legally.
Moore and Strang, both eighth-graders from Center Drive School in Orrington, were among an estimated 60,000 youths from more than 300 Maine schools who participated in the annual mock election coordinated by the Secretary of State’s Office.
“It gives an opportunity for people who aren’t of legal voting age to at least become involved and participate,” spokesman Don Cookson said. “It’s been dominating the news literally for months now, and I think giving future voters a chance to take part in the process is time well spent.”
Statewide results were gathered at two “Rally and Tally” events, one in Augusta and the other at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, which is where Moore, Strang and about 75 other students from a handful of schools participated.
“The kids have had a lot of fun, even the young ones,” said Charlie Colson, a seventh-grade teacher at Center Drive School. “I think it’s important for them to pay attention. No matter what your politics are, this is a difficult time for our country and decisions affect them, too.”
Whether the mock election results will accurately predict what happens Tuesday is unclear.
In the presidential race, Sen. Obama was heavily favored with 61 percent of mock voters, compared with 34 percent for McCain.
In the U.S. Senate race, Republican Susan Collins held a 58 percent to 41 percent edge over Democrat Tom Allen.
Incumbent Michael Michaud, the Democrat, held a significant edge — 62 percent to 37 percent — over John Frary in the 2nd District U.S. House contest.
The closest race among mock voters was in the 1st District, where Republican Charlie Summers held a microscopic lead of 49.7 percent to 49.6 percent over Democrat Chellie Pingree.
The referendum questions showed youth voters supporting Question 1, which would repeal the beverage tax, 54 percent to 46 percent. The young students voted 55 percent to 45 percent against allowing a casino to be located in Oxford County, Question 2. They also supported the $3.4 million bond issue, Question 3 for drinking water programs and wastewater treatment facilities, 57 percent to 42 percent.
Several local and state candidates made appearances at the Rally and Tally event in Bangor, including Frary, Joe Perry, a state senator from Bangor, and Emily Cain, a state representative from Orono.
“I don’t remember having such a strong interest at that age, but this is such a different election,” said Cain. “Even these kids have a sense of urgency about what’s going on in the world.”
Morgan Chasse, 14, and Brittany Theriault, 13, who were among a group of students from Fort Kent helping out at EMCC, each sported Obama-Biden buttons, a clear indication of their presidential choice. The teenagers said their choice was a break from their parents’ preferences.
“My dad doesn’t want Obama,” Chasse said. “He sells guns, and I think he thinks Obama will hurt his business.”
“My mom doesn’t mind Obama, but my dad doesn’t even like to watch,” Theriault said.
Donald Murray, who teaches history to Chasse, Theriault and other eighth-graders in Fort Kent, said his students have spent the past several weeks learning about the political process. The hardest part for him, he said, is keeping his own beliefs and opinions to himself.
“It’s important for me to be impartial, but they always ask,” he said. “I tend to open up about my votes after the election.”
Moore and Strong, while divided sharply on their presidential vote, certainly didn’t mind talking about it.
“It’s OK to disagree,” said Moore.
Complete results for the mock election in Maine can be found online at www.maine.gov/mockelection.