They may be too young to pay taxes and too innocent to understand partisan politics, but the nation's elementary school students know exactly who they'd like to see take up residence in the White House — it's Barack Obama by a landslide.

"I like Obama," said fifth-grader Keylea'Shaye Skinner as she waited to vote for the next U.S. president in a mock election at her Orem school on Monday. "I think there needs to be a lot of changes in this country, and I don't think John McCain can do that."

Skinner, along with nearly 1 million other children across the 50 states, cast her ballot as part of an online voting program developed by Lindon businessman Ed Rickers. Students at more than 10,000 schools nationwide logged onto studiesweekly.com to choose between the senator from Illinois and the senator from Arizona. Seventy-five Utah schools participated.

"We just wanted to make voting exciting for the kids so when they grow up and graduate they'll keep doing it," said Rickers, who is president of Studies Weekly's parent company, American Legacy Publishing. "The future of our country really depends on getting informed, educated people to the polls."

In the mock election, Obama snagged all the coastal states and dominated in the South, earning a total of 477 electoral votes. McCain nabbed the Dakotas, most of the Midwest — including Utah — and a solid belt of states stretching from Oklahoma to West Virginia.

Similar school elections in the past have been nearly foolproof indicators of actual election results.

"Children's beliefs and opinions are shaped by what they hear their parents say," said Sarah Taylor, administrator of Sandcastle Academy in Bountiful. All of her students, in kindergarten through ninth grade, voted. "Our job is to make them think about why their parents think the way they do."

This year parental persuasion may not be the only factor influencing student votes, however. Obama's charm, good looks and, as one sixth-grader put it, "extra coolness" may account for the disparity between Monday's student election results and the majority of pre-election polls, which have been a little kinder to McCain.

As for Utah, the majority of the state's students stayed true to their traditionally Republican roots. McCain garnered about 65 percent of the nearly 12,000 student votes.

"I feel McCain would be a good president for the country," said Sarah Hindmarsh, 11, a sixth-grader at Orem's Bonneville Elementary. "He has a lot of good ideas and a lot of wisdom."

The halls at Hindmarsh's school were filled with heated discussions about the candidates, even though, as one fourth-grader reminded this reporter solemnly, "Shhh! You're not supposed to tell people who you vote for."

"John McCain is the best," shouted one little boy as he head back to class.

"Is not," came the classic reply.

It's not just talk, though. Most of the students knew their stuff. Their teachers have been preparing them to vote for weeks.

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Some schools have had mock debates. Others put together maps predicting the Electoral College results. They've all been doing a lot of reading.

"This election has really sparked an interest here," said James Martin, principal of Edison Elementary in Salt Lake City. "All the students are talking about it. They really are becoming involved in the political process."


E-mail: estuart@desnews.com