On Tuesday (10-7-14), not all the voting in Sitka happened at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Up the street at Sitka High School, in Howard Wayne’s American Government class, students headed to the polls in a mock election. And while the student voters may not have completely agreed with the electorate at-large, their opinions were—mostly! —based on thorough research.
William Borcy is counting ballots. For every vote, he ticks off a line in red pen and does a quick tally.
Borcy: So out of this class for Mayor, Orion had 14 votes. Mim had four. And Savvas Matiatos had one. A write-in.
KCAW: Who’s Savvas Matiatos?
Borcy: Him, over there.
William waved across the room to a boy with wavy blonde hair.
Matiatos: Hi, I’m Savvas Matiatos.
KCAW: How old are you?”
Matiatos: I am 17.
KCAW: So you can’t vote yet.
Matiatos: No. [Laughs] That’s probably for the best because I have a lot of radical thoughts.
Radical maybe, but at least Savvas and his classmates have done their homework. Every student in Mr. Wayne’s class listened to the candidate statements on KCAW. They took a full page of notes and had a class discussion afterwards. Savvas said that the process allowed him to make a more informed vote.
“Within the public,” Savvas said. “What I see is people choose one or two people that look like they mean something. Or somebody that they know. They just follow them or just vote for them without knowing anything.”
While Savvas voted for Steven Eisenbeisz, his classmate Aaryn VanVeen voted for Thor Christianson. She liked the way he articulated his answers on air and felt that self-presentation is important.
“It kind of sets the tone for how you plan on doing your job,” Aaryn said. “Like, if you were careless in the presentation that you give it’s like– well I don’t want to vote for you. You’re pretty careless. I’m going to vote for someone who cares more.”
As for Mayor, Aaryn’s vote went to Orion Hughes-Knowles. She isn’t bothered by the fact that he’s 26, only a few years older than she is. In fact, Aaryn feels his age is a selling point for voters of her generation.
“A lot of my older friends can’t find jobs that will pay enough for them to live,” she said. Glancing at her notes, she said. “[Hughes-Knowles] wants to make things more affordable in Sitka and make more apartments.”
Her classmate, William Borcy, echoed the sentiment.
“Mim, I’m not calling her old, but she might in the past for some people,” Will said. “Like if you had someone between Orion and Mim’s age probably, they would know what would help the old without offending them and how the millennials might want to see something happen.”
Affordable housing wasn’t the only thing on the minds of millennials. Howard Wayne has been running mock elections for years and he said that small things could sway the vote of the whole class.
“There were a lot of students who thought that Orion Hughes-Knowles looked very attractive in his photo,” Wayne said. “That may have swayed some of them right from the beginning.”
And a photo on the KCAW website showed assembly candidate Aaron Wamsley wearing a Mt. Edgecumbe High School sweatshirt.
“They are our rivals, you know, from across the bridge!” Wayne explained. “So as [Wamsley] was describing his job there I think that that may have impacted the way that some students listened to his responses.”
It reminded KCAW of another famous episode from election history.
KCAW: Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy?
Wayne: Absolutely. Exactly. The…
KCAW: The photo. The visual.
HW: The visual from Nixon’s brown suit as opposed to Kennedy’s blue.
During the presidential debates in 1960, radio listeners thought Nixon a better debater, but those who watched the debate on television proclaimed Kennedy their choice. After vacationing in Florida, Kennedy appeared tan and relaxed, while Nixon seemed worn down. Wayne agreed these visual details made a difference.
“You know, he just came off so much better in the debate and it had a huge effect on the polls,” Wayne said.
And the winners of the American Government mock election?
Orion Hughes-Knowles for mayor, with 46 votes to Mim McConnell’s 29. The two seats on the Sitka Assembly went to Steven Eisenbeisz, with 45 votes, and Thor Christianson, with 34 votes. Thomas Conley and Tim Fulton each earned 62 votes for school board.