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Local AP government classes get hands-on democracy lesson

November 7, 2012 | 12:52 am

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Several Advanced Placement government classes got a hands-on lesson in democracy on election night. 

The Los Angeles County registrar employed about 300 seniors from Cerritos and Whittier High School to help count ballots Tuesday night. After a short training session, the students were dropped off at the registrar's office in Norwalk, where they were put to work inspecting ballots and unloading duffel bags from vans bearing ballots from all over the county. 

Cerritos High School government teacher Dave Johnstone has been arranging the volunteer field trips for about 20 years. He says it gives his students a chance to see democracy in action. 

"The point is for them to see where their ballot goes after it's cast, and see how much care and respect it gets," Johnstone said.

He tells his students that they are at the 'ground zero' of democracy and points out the rings of security surrounding the registrar's office. He also offered 100 participation points to those who helped out.

"So hopefully they'll believe in the sanctity of the vote and see that their vote really does matter," Johnstone said.

A third-floor workroom in the county building thrummed with activity Tuesday night. Registrar staffers sat shoulder to shoulder with high school students at wooden tables and unwrapped red ballot boxes and inspected votes.

Alicia Wang, 17, ran between tables with supplies, slightly out of breath. The senior said she had never realized how much work went into an election.

"Actually, I never realized how much paper and people this was," Alicia said. "I thought it was all on computers."

Stephanie Tran, 17, inspected ballots for signs of damage, smears or improper bubbling, setting aside votes that need to be confirmed. She said she didn't mind being up late.

"You get to be with your friends, and it feels good, like it's my civic duty," said Stephanie, who is still too young to cast a vote.

The students worked a six-hour shift, from 6 p.m. to midnight, though votes didn't start coming in until 8 p.m. In addition to the participation points, they'll receive a certificate from the registrar for their help and community service hours.

Human Resources Manager Rehana Uraizee said the registrar has been working with local high schools for several years.

"It's a good experience for them. It's good for them to know how elections work," Uraizee said. 

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-Frank Shyong

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