Cary Elementary students vote for president – without hating each other

At a time when many adult voters aren’t being civil, students at Cary Elementary School are learning that you can still be friends even if you don’t support the same presidential candidate.

More than 550 Cary Elementary students participated in a mock presidential election Monday, complete with voter registration cards, homemade voting booths, iPads to record the votes and “I Voted” stickers. But students didn’t cast their ballots until after they watched a student-performed video about voting etiquette, including how it’s wrong to say you can only be friends if you support the same candidates.

“We don’t want to offend, but we also want the kids to realize that by saying certain things to certain people you can offend them,” said Chelsea Cadman, a third-grade teacher who came up with the idea for the school-wide election. “So why not teach them at a young age to be respectful of the rules of voting and the etiquette especially?”

Glenn Pascarella, a third-grade teacher, said it was cool to see students saying to their classmates that they respected their opinions even though they were voting for different presidential candidates. During the event, students could cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, or they could write in a candidate.

The election results were announced Tuesday with Clinton winning in a landslide. Clinton got 70.8 percent of the student vote. Trump, the real-life President-elect, received 29.2 percent.

The school’s lessons on election civility drew national attention with Cadman and some students appearing on Wednesday’s broadcast of the NBC Nightly News.

Before Kids Voting NC switched its focus to high school students, many Wake County schools at all grade levels had their students cast election ballots each fall election to get them into the habit of voting.

Cary Elementary teachers said they wanted to make sure students understood why it’s important to vote.

“We just wanted to get the word out that we wanted to hear everyone’s voice in the whole school,” Pascarella said. “So we decided the best way to do that is to set up our own voting booths.”

Lee Snider, 8, a third-grade student, says he realizes now why it’s important for Americans to vote.

“In some countries the important people just choose the leader instead of everybody getting the chance to vote,” Lee said. “It’s bad for that to happen, because that leader might be a bad leader.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui