Local News

Early voting?

SEBRING - Coach LaVar Scott shepherded all students whose last names begin from K to Z through one door. "Make sure you have your IDs," he yelled out, as droves of them walked up to the Smith Center of Sebring High School. Close by, it was Hank Smith's job to navigate the other students through a second set of doors. It was Election Day at Sebring High School Tuesday - sort of - and the two were there to direct 1,600 students to school officials, who were waiting inside to check off their names on "voting rolls" before handing them a ballot.
In what is the first example of its kind in Highlands County, school students chose their homecoming queen and king in a secret ballot based a lot like voters encounter during real elections. "We wanted to give them the whole voting experience," said assistant principal Ilene Eshelman, so students knew what to expect when they can legally vote in a few years. "We are trying to replicate the voting process." "Just like Election Day," promised Patsy Fulbright, deputy supervisor of elections with the Highlands County Elections Office, who was there along with her co-workers to see the process through. Students bubbled in their choices on ballots the elections office printed and provided. The ballots were then fed through one of six optical scanners elections office staff members brought with them. Some off-campus students, like those from the Career Academy and the school's swim team that is at a district meet - will be sending in absentee ballots school officials will be counting by hand. Unlike Election Day, however, the elections office is letting the school tabulate the total votes. Apparently, the names of the winners is a closely guarded secret. Eshelman said only two school officials will know who wins until their names are announced during half-time at Friday's football game. The idea came up when former Elections Supervisor Joe Campbell was at an American Government class last year and he and the school's Student Government Association sponsor Hollie Johnson started talking about having a mock election. While Campbell is no longer with the elections office, current Elections Supervisor Penny Ogg got a call from Johnson and got it going as part of the office's outreach efforts to spread awareness about voting. Senior Frank Mena, who was Tuesday's first voter, was impressed with the idea. "It's cool," he said. "It was different from last year." And who did he vote for of the 10 each vying for homecoming queen and king? "My best friend and the cutest girl," he grinned. While Matthew Cortis was waiting for the crowd to thin, Mary-Elizabeth Estrada had cast her ballot. "It's cute," she said of the election. "They are trying to make it like a real election." "It's just like voting for president," concurred Austin Kelly, 17, who proudly displayed his "I Voted" sticker on his sweater and planned to wear it all day.