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Fifth-graders elect Clinton

During a mock election with two Tarpon Springs elementary schools, fifth-graders overwhelmingly chose Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton to be the next president of the United States.

The fifth-grade classes of two schools, Sunset Hills Elementary and Tarpon Springs Elementary, were part of the mock election put on by the Tarpon Springs city clerk's office. Clerk Kathy Alesafis said that in the past children have proven prescient.

"We did this the last presidential election and the kids chose Bush," she said. "Their parents voted the same way."

The election results were: At Sunset Hills, Clinton received 58 percent; George Bush 28 percent; Ross Perot received 13 percent; and Libertarian candidate Andre Marrou received 1 percent.

At Tarpon Springs Elementary, Clinton again won, taking 45 percent; Bush 37 percent; Perot had 16 percent; and Marrou had 2 percent.

Alesafis and Deputy City Clerk Dorothy Pappas tried to make the mock election as grounded in reality as they could for the nearly 200 10-year-olds who cast votes last Tuesday. Signs were posted in the hallway of city hall advertising the election and noting when poll workers would show up. Two ballot boxes were available to students.

Even the rules about campaigning were being enforced.

A group of students from Sunset Hills Elementary brought campaign signs with them. Pappas made them put them away.

"No politicking near the voting booths," she said. Florida law forbids campaign literature or paraphernalia within 50 feet of a voting precinct.

Many of the students didn't need signs to sway their opinions. Most knew exactly who they wanted to vote for and why.

Nathan Figg, 10, from Tarpon Springs Elementary, voted for Clinton because he said Bush didn't do a good enough job and broke too many promises.

"And he did Desert Storm and I didn't like that because too many people had to die," Figg said. "The problem was between Iraq and Kuwait. We had no reason to be there."

But Erin Hesse, 10, from Sunset Hills Elementary, thought Perot was the best choice. She liked Perot's wanting to raise taxes on everyone to help the poor. But rather than hand out the money to the poor through entitlements, he would use that money to create jobs, she said. And she didn't mind that he left the race only to come back in again.

"He even said that he made a mistake (leaving the race) and wanted to correct it and so he came back in," Hesse said.

Phillip Stringfellow, 10, also from Sunset Hills, said the country still needs President Bush. He has a proven record of leadership unlike the other candidates. And he didn't mind that the president waffled on his tax stance.

"He didn't want to raise taxes," Stringfellow said. "He just doesn't want to waste taxes on stuff he didn't like."

Teachers in both schools had students learning about the election process. At Tarpon Springs Elementary, the students were learning about the electoral college and how a candidate could win the popular vote, but still lose the election, said Kitty Gainey, fourth- and fifth-grade teacher.

At Sunset Hills, the students read newspaper and magazine articles about the candidates and checked their stances on different issues, like education, the environment and employment, said fifth-grade teacher Gwen Perry. The students knew a great deal about the issues and showed great depth in their feeling toward candidates, she said.

"They have very strong feelings about the candidates, just like adults," Perry said, laden with placards the children had made. "It was their own idea to make the signs."