Dozens of students, ranging from kindergarten to 5th-graders, jumped excitedly in their seats, flailing their arms back and forth as they voted on their favorite fast food restaurants.
The voting was a part of a presentation being offered at several Pasco County elementary schools this month on the importance of voting by Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley and his team.
On Feb. 5, students in Deer Park Elementary School's PLACE afterschool program were given choices of where they'd like to vacation or what their favorite fast foods were and had to raise their hands to vote.
"These are future voters," Corley said. "These are future leaders. I take that role very seriously. We are trying to plant the seeds of the importance of being a good citizen."
Joyce Martin, an outreach and poll worker coordinator for the Supervisor of Elections Office, said that even though the students are far from the voting age of 18, they need to know the importance of voicing their choices now.
"They already do various elections at the school now for student council, what books and movies they want to read and watch in the classroom," Martin said.
"When I do the presentation, I tell the students, 'Hey, Mr. Corley is 42 and not getting any younger. It'll be your responsibility one day to take care of the city, county, state and country,' " Corley said.
Martin explained the difference between voting by raising their hands and giving their opinion versus writing their answers down on a piece of paper — a secret ballot.
"Why is it important to vote by secret ballot?" Martin asked the young audience. "So you can make up your own mind on what you want to vote for and you won't have to worry about what other people think."
At the end of the PowerPoint presentation, Martin passed out ballots that asked the students to choose their favorite cats and dogs from movies, cartoons and books. The kids filled in the blank ovals with thick crayon markers and chatted in whispers about their choices.
After they voted, the students received "I voted" stickers with American flags, just like the ones they saw their parents get at the polls during the 2012 general election, in November.
"They really got into it," said the Deer Park PLACE site manager Shannon Anderson. "They enjoyed voting for things that were pertinent to them."
The students were given flyers to take home to their parents that explained the activity and encouraged adults to register to vote if they weren't already registered. Corley said they view this as not only an educational opportunity for kids, but as a voter outreach program for their parents.
"Those flyers have enabled or alerted several parents to register to vote," Corley said.
For information about outreach programs in schools and in the community, visit www.pascovotes.com.