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Local high schoolers sound off on election, favor Trump over Clinton

Overall, 280 schools participated in the Students Vote program sponsored by the Minnesota Secretary of State, and 77,017 students in grades 9-12 cast a ballot. Statewide, Republican candidate Donald Trump beat out Democrat Hillary Clinton by a little less than 1,600 votes. Locally, Brainerd High School students favored Trump over Clinton by a little less than 300 votes.

If most Minnesota high schoolers tried to cast a ballot on Election Day, they would get turned away for not being old enough.

But high schoolers statewide cast their ballots for president Oct. 25, thanks to the Students Vote program sponsored by the Minnesota Secretary of State.

Overall, 280 schools participated in the program and 77,017 students in grades 9-12 cast a ballot. Statewide, Republican candidate Donald Trump beat out Democrat Hillary Clinton by a little less than 1,600 votes. Locally, Brainerd High School students favored Trump over Clinton by a little less than 300 votes.

Senior Josh VanHorn will cast his ballot for real on Election Day, as he's old enough to vote. The program provided good insight into how the area leans politically, he said, and showed many students have their political views influenced by their parents.

"It's kind of a practice run, kind of get your feet wet and figure out what you're doing," VanHorn said.

VanHorn started paying attention to the election in early June, when he realized he was going to be casting his first ballot in November. He voted for Clinton because he likes her ideas on immigration, peace among countries and her views on the rights of gun owners, all of which are big issues for him. For now, he'll stick to voting and not running for office.

"I can tell you, I'll never be a politician," VanHorn said.

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Brainerd High School

  • Trump 688
  • Clinton 397
  • Castle 13
  • Vacek 63
  • Kennedy 12
  • Stein 38
  • De La Fuente 15
  • McMullin 24
  • Johnson 53
  • Write-in 9
  • Spoiled 6 
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Senior Hunter Ahle will be voting on Election Day and said the Students Vote program gave students insight into how the voting process works. He was somewhat interested in politics before taking the American Government class because he wants to know how the country is run. He was surprised to learn more about the Electoral College and its role in selecting a president.

"I knew what it was but I didn't really know the in-depth of what it does," Ahle said. "I thought it was more about the popular vote."

It was exciting to participate in Students Vote a couple of weeks before he casts his ballot for real, Ahle said.

"I definitely believe that my voice counts," Ahle said.

Ahle voted for Trump in the mock election because he likes his focus on American self-reliance and getting out of or renegotiating bad international trade deals. The controversy surrounding Trump didn't sway him, Ahle said, because there's been controversies with both the Clinton and Trump campaigns.

"It's more how much dirt can one candidate get on another," Ahle said. "Instead of focusing on their actual points ... so it kind of frustrated me."

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Pequot Lakes High School

  • Trump 241
  • Clinton 89
  • Castle 3
  • Vacek 41
  • Kennedy 1
  • Stein 7
  • De La Fuente 9
  • McMullin 4
  • Johnson 76
  • Write-in 0
  • Spoiled 0

No write-ins, no spoiled

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Locally, Dan R. Vacek, presidential candidate for the Legal Marijuana Now Party, received 63 votes. Statewide, he took home a little less than 6 percent of the vote. Ahle wasn't surprised to see some of his classmates cast their votes for the fringe candidate.

"It didn't surprise me too much, being that it's high school," Ahle said. "I don't really find that as too legitimate."

Senior Braedon Metz plans to vote on Election Day and said Students Vote was a good stepping stone toward voting during presidential elections. He had a previous interest in politics and watched the presidential debates in 2012 between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. He was also surprised to learn more about the Electoral College and the fact a candidate could win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College, or vice versa.

Metz voted for Trump because he likes his ideas of strong borders and staunching the flow of immigrants over those borders. He also liked Trump's promise to abandon or renegotiate the country's trade deals with foreign partners.

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Pillager High School

  • Trump 123
  • Clinton 26
  • Castle 4
  • Vacek 4
  • Kennedy 0
  • Stein 5
  • De La Fuente 1
  • McMullin 4
  • Johnson 14
  • Write-in 17
  • Spoiled 0
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Senior Michael Bieganek thought Students Vote provided good insight into how students view the election and what they're thinking about. He wasn't really interested in politics before taking the American Government class, but has become more interested the closer the election gets. His views on the issues were influenced by how much time Clinton and Trump spent attacking each other and not talking about policy.

Bieganek voted for Libertarian Party Candidate Gary Johnson because the mudslinging between Clinton and Trump turned him away. Bieganek felt Johnson's policies reflected a bit of both Trump and Clinton, he said.

"Just because I vote third-party this time doesn't mean I'm not going to vote a main party next time," Bieganek said. "I'm not one-sided."

Senior Sadie Jordan started paying attention to the election a couple months ago, she said, because she's going to be voting on Election Day. All the races on the ballot are important, she said, but races like Brainerd School Board and for state Senate seats have a greater impact on students.

Jordan expected to see Trump top the BHS results because many of the students have been siding with him. She voted for Trump because she doesn't like Clinton's immigration policies and "doesn't want any more terrorism than we already have."

"I didn't pay much attention to the economic side of it because that doesn't really affect me very much at this point," Jordan said.

Students Vote and the American Government class were helpful ways to learn more about who to vote for on Election Day, Jordan said. It also helped show her her vote matters.

"We've learned that one popular vote has made one candidate win the electoral votes for one state," Jordan said. "It made me think my vote actually does matter."

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Staples-Motley High School

  • Trump 123
  • Clinton 43
  • Castle 0
  • Vacek 12
  • Kennedy 0
  • Stein 5
  • De La Fuente 2
  • McMullin 9
  • Johnson 7
  • Write-in 53
  • Spoiled 2
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Bieganek, Metz, VanHorn, Ahle and Jordan are five of 22 of Kathy Hegstrom's American Government students who have also gone through election judge trainee training.

Watching the debates prompted Bieganek to want to get more involved, he said, which is why he decided to go through election judge training.

"I thought this was a way I could get more involved," Bieganek said.

Election judge experience is a good thing students can put on their resumes or college applications, Hegstrom said. It shows students are involved in the community and not limited to activities at the high school.

"I hope they keep doing it," Hegstrom said.

Learning the basics

Hegstrom has been teaching American Government for more than 25 years and has done mock elections at the high school before. Those included more than just the presidential race and for a while were done every two years. The issue, though, came from students not having enough background information on the candidates and the policies, she said.

"I do think that being informed is the main part of voting," Hegstrom said. "And unfortunately, the younger they are, the less information they have."

Because of this, Hegstrom focuses on teaching students the information they find on the TV or internet may not be reliable. Students then need to do more research and look at nonpartisan sources for reliable information, she said.

During class, Hegstrom has students take a survey on to see how their views on policy align with the candidates. Students who are old enough to vote can also register during class, or check their voter registration. Students also review political parties, interest groups, the voting process and the political spectrum.

"We try to do all that background and hope that they'll take it seriously," Hegstrom said.

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Little Falls High School

  • Trump 229
  • Clinton 85
  • Castle 3
  • Vacek 11
  • Kennedy 1
  • Stein 11
  • De La Fuente 2
  • McMullin 9
  • Johnson 16
  • Write-in 81
  • Spoiled 0

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This year's presidential election was much more personal and immature than past races, Hegstrom said, as the candidates rarely talked about the issues during debates. Instead, the class looked at the party platforms to learn more about how the candidates stood on the issues, she said.

"If some of them were to say or do some of the things the candidates say and do, they'd be down in the office," Hegstrom said.

The class looked at immigration, the separation of church and state, religious freedoms and terrorism, Hegstrom said. There's also weekly discussion on current events. One issue the class focused on was financial inequity and student loans, she said, because it's a major issue for high schoolers who may soon be going onto post-secondary education.

"That is a concern of mine, as a parent, but also as a teacher, as a citizen," Hegstrom said.

Students Vote

The first round of Students Vote results featured tallies from 213 of the 280 schools that participated. As of Oct. 31, Trump and running mate Mike Pence held a narrow lead over Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine.

"The Students Vote 2016 initiative is about getting good habits started early and this year tens of thousands of young and soon-to-be voters had the opportunity to get invaluable, hands-on experience with the electoral process," said Secretary of State Steve Simon in a news release. "I'm especially grateful to the hundreds of schools, administrators, teachers and students who helped administer the mock election, and the over 77,000 students who made their voices heard."

Each high school was given the ability to decide how and where the voting took place, whether in one central location, over the lunch hour, in individual classrooms, or something entirely different.

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  • Trump 26,930 - 34.97 percent
  • Clinton 25,333 - 32.89 percent
  • Castle 986 - 1.28 percent
  • Vacek 4,570 - 5.93 percent
  • Kennedy 665 - .86 percent
  • Stein 2,764 - 3.59 percent
  • De La Fuente 1,160 - 1.51 percent
  • McMullin 1,658 - 2.15 percent
  • Johnson 4,371 - 5.68 percent
  • Write-in 7,124 - 9.25 percent
  • Spoiled 1.456 - 1.89 percent

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Spenser Bickett

Spenser Bickett covers the Brainerd City Council and education. A native of the Twin Cities, Bickett attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he majored in journalism with a minor in political science. After graduation, he worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer before coming to Brainerd.

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