Correction to This Article
A Nov. 7 Metro article about student-council voting in Arlington incorrectly said that Taylor Elementary School was the first in the county to use electronic ballots. Hoffman-Boston Elementary School has also used them. In addition, a photo caption with the article incorrectly identified a student who had voted. The child shown was Lwazi-Enno Rennert, according to the school system, not Theo Vargas.

Young Va. Voters Go High Tech, Show Very High Tolerance

Dymond Mattison, 7, gets help voting in student council elections from Beth Berquist at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington County.
Dymond Mattison, 7, gets help voting in student council elections from Beth Berquist at Taylor Elementary School in Arlington County. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

At one Arlington County polling station yesterday, electronic voting was introduced, and it came off like a dream. Turnout was close to 100 percent. All votes were counted. There were no paper receipts -- none were needed -- and no demands for a recount.

That could have been because the voters were 11 and younger.

Yesterday, Taylor Elementary School became the first in Arlington to switch from paper ballots to electronic voting for student council elections. A small room was set up as the polling station, with four laptop computers and wall extensions to keep the voting private, as 575 students lined up to do their civic duty.

"Is it fun? Is it fun?" asked a breathless Alisha Hiskey, 9, as her fellow fourth-graders filed out. Most nodded that it was.

"I'm always trying to find a new way to infuse technology into their lessons," said Ena Wood, the school's instructional technology coordinator, who came up with the idea. "I thought, let's give it a try and see how it works." The school used software called Zoomerang to tally votes and calculate percentages. (Only the kindergartners cast paper ballots, immediately after speeches Friday, so they would not forget the candidates.)

Later this month, students at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Arlington will also start voting electronically; students at Fairfax County's Kilmer Middle School began doing so last month.

School officials said the new system makes the votes easier to read and count, especially when they are cast by younger voters. With paper ballots, "they'd circle all the pictures of everyone," said school counselor Lauren Churchill. "Little kids love to circle everything."

Some adult candidates on today's ballots could take a few lessons from the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who were seeking office. Daphne Martin, a fourth-grader running for vice president, even briefly considered voting for Alisha, her good friend, who was running for the same position.

Alisha, too, was a generous candidate. "I know all the candidates," she said, "and they'll be just as good at the job as I would be." In the end, she said, victory would probably be "a matter of the cool posters, the cool stickers -- you know, the bribery stuff."

Some campaigners hit on a strategy of mentioning some of the things they couldn't do. Those who said things such as "I can't promise you all-day recess" or "I can't promise that we're going to King's Dominion" were remembered favorably by some voters as having promised trips to King's Dominion or all-day recess.

Some voters collaborated. "I never voted before, so my friend Christian just told me who to vote for," said Jack Brown, 6, a first-grader.

That friend, Christian McCord-Snook, 7, bounded exuberantly out of the polling station, saying, "I want to go back and vote again, for the same people."

By 2 p.m., an hour before polls closed, some returns were in. There were clear front-runners for president and treasurer, but the races for vice president and secretary were in a dead heat.

Bennett Lincoln, 10, a fifth-grader running for president, praised the electronic system. "I felt much more confident about my vote," he said. "It's much more clear."

"It's like we stepped up into the future," said Cepehr Alizadeh, 10.

But some said they needed time to adjust to the new system. Megan Koch, 10, said she used to find a quiet corner to contemplate her paper ballot. Now, with all the people waiting to use the machines, "I think a lot of people feel more rushed and feel more intense pressure."

She and her fellow fifth-graders agreed, however, that they were old fogies. "I have a sibling in first grade, and I think she's going to be more used to the computer," Megan said. "It will come more naturally."

Staff writer Maria Glod contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company