Student voters evenly split on O’Driscoll versus O’Brien

·3 min read

PC candidate Loyola O’Driscoll and Liberal candidate Cheryl O'Brien were deadlocked at the ballot box, each with 101 votes to their names, while NDP candidate Paul Murphy trailed close behind with 77 votes. That’s according to how students in Ferryland district voted in a mock election anyway.

In the actual election, the results of which were announced Saturday, PC incumbent O’Driscoll earned 3,197 votes to O’ Brien’s 2,696 votes, leaving O’Driscoll to carry on the district’s 50-year blue streak, while NDP candidate Paul Murphy received 216 votes.

Students at Goulds Elementary, however, favoured Murphy (48 votes) and O’Brien (50 votes) to O’Driscoll (26 votes), while students at Mobile Central High School gave O’Driscoll an overwhelming majority vote – 38 votes for O’ Driscoll to Murphy’s and O’Brien’s 4 and 13 votes respectively.

At St. Kevin’s Junior High, O’Brien beat O’ Driscoll by just one vote – 34 to 33, while Murphy trailed behind at 25.

And, in an astonishing coincidence, the district tie between O’Brien and O’Driscoll was not the only tie. At Stella Maris Academy in Trepassey, the vote was split straight down the middle: both O’Brien and O’Driscoll received four votes each.

“We looked at all the parties’ election platforms and election promises,” said teacher Ashley Abbott. “Some of our students made up their minds based on what each candidates in our area said what they’re going to do, and we also have students who came to school, and heard from their parents, who are talking politics at home, who they think is the most suitable candidate.”

Students in grades 4 to 12 at Stella Maris, along with other schools participating in the mock election, were among some of the few across the province who cast an actual ballot. The students voted just prior to Elections Officer Bruce Chaulk’s decision to cancel all in-person voting due to an outbreak of COVID-19, ballot box and all.

“They’re really engaged, and involved in something, similar to what the adults are doing,” said Abbott. “We show students from a young age how to vote, and why it’s important. And that’s good because voter turnout sometimes can be really low, as we’ve seen in this election. So, if we get students engaged and interested when they’re young, the chance of turn out being higher (in the future) is greater, in my opinion.”

The mock election is hosted by national organization Civix, which provides participating schools with materials for the election, along with curriculum that touches on politics, the democratic process and Canadian rights and freedoms.

“There are lessons that talk about fake news, and where to go for reputable facts and information, and how to check for those things online,” said Abbott, who also helped coordinate the school’s mock election in the 2019 provincial election. “So, it teaches students critical thinking skills and how to analyze what they read online.”

She said the students were concerned both about local issues, such as road conditions and water quality, as well as big picture ideas like climate change.

Unlike the actual provincial election, which was beset by controversary at every turn and amassed a historic low voter turnout of only 48 percent, there have been no talks yet of challenging the student election in the courts.

Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News