By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Students in Yvonne Horton’s American government class at Forest Hill High School in south Jackson know the importance of voting.

Not only do they learn about the election process in her class, but she also makes sure they are prepared to participate once they turn age 18. Filling out the mail-in voter registration forms is part of her class.

She then goes one step further, taking the mail-in forms to the Hinds County circuit clerk’s office to make sure the students are officially registered to vote.

“We really spoil them,” she admitted Tuesday after a news conference where Secretary of State Eric Clark announced “Promote the Vote,” the largest mock student election in the history of the state to be held on Oct. 29, a week before the presidential contest on Nov. 5.

Clark, a former history and political science teacher on the junior high, high school, junior college and college level, said the schools are a good place to get people excited at an early age about voting.

During his teaching career, Clark said he stressed the importance of voting – and of becoming involved in the process either by running for office or working for candidates.

“It (elections) is a passion of mine,” said Clark, who promised when running for secretary of state this past fall to use his office as a soapbox to try to increase voter participation.

Clark and others said more of an effort must be made to get people involved in the election process. He said only 7 percent of the state’s registered voters participated in the March primaries for president, U.S. representatives and senators.

In the last general election – where, historically, more people nationwide vote than in primaries – two-thirds of all eligible voters under the age of 25 did not participate.

Clark said he hopes Promote the Vote will help change that.

“Promote the Vote is designed to give students a voice in this year’s presidential election,” Clark said. “More than that, it’s a way to encourage voter participation and citizen involvement throughout Mississippi. We hope to build a record turnout this November.”

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office – in conjunction with the state Department of Education – will send out information about Promote the Vote to all school districts. The information also will be sent out to private and parochial schools.

How it will work

High school and junior high students can vote in the mock election. There also will be essay contests and art contests for elementary-age students of schools that want to participate. A voter-registration drive also will be part of the process.

The Mississippi Promote the Vote effort is part of a nationwide campaign. The results will be telecast on the Cable News Network.

At Tupelo High School, interim Principal Sue Shaw Smith said she is certain her students will participate in Promote the Vote.

“We have active Republican and Democratic groups on campus,” she said. “I am sure they will want to sponsor it.”

Smith said the importance of the voting process is stressed at Tupelo High School. Employees from the Lee County circuit clerk’s office come to the schools to register people to vote.

And once they are registered, Secretary of State Clark said it is important to actually go vote and stay informed about the campaign issues.

“More than a million Americans have died in 10 wars,” Clark said. “The basic theme they were fighting for was to give the people the right to choose their leaders.”

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