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Election Day Is Like Christmas When You're Running For Elementary School President

Courtesy of Anna Cole
After losing her presidential campaign, eleven-year-old Anna Cole, far left, poses with her opponent, holding an award in the center, for a group photo, shortly after the election.

It's Election Day, which has us thinking about those times in our childhood when we ran for office, or managed our best friend's campaign. Back when things were simpler ... right?

Wrong, says Anna Cole. 

As a fifth grader at Bryant Elementary School in Kansas City's Brookside neighborhood, Cole ran for school president.

It was the fall of 1991, and Cole was geared up. After getting into student council in the third grade, then progressing to treasurer in fourth, she was ready for higher office.

"I was kind of a high-achieving kid anyway," she says. "I wanted to be President of the United States at that time. I thought it was really cool."

She ran a whole campaign — complete with posters covered in glitter and puffy paint, hand-drawn flyers, personal phone calls and speeches about extending recess — she had a platform.

As for her opponent?

"She was already cool. I'm not sure she needed a platform," Cole says. "She had all the cool girlfriends at her lunch table. I was the dork who sat at the misfits table." 

But by election day, Cole was convinced she had out-campaigned her opponent. 

Waking up that morning, she says, felt like Christmas.

"It was the anticipation. Waking up and thinking, I'm going to win, but also, not knowing. I remember being dressed to win."

She put on her favorite red Mickey Mouse shirt, and a headband for those bangs, inspired at the time by the style of the soon-to-be First Lady.

About 150 votes were cast, which shouldn't have taken too long to tally. But, she remembers, she waited for what felt like ages. As it turned out, her rival's mother was counting the votes, and Cole's mother was fighting for a fair election.

Cole lost that day by two votes.

After the closing bell, with her mother by her side, Cole left the building, to find school buses of kids cheering, chanting her name and dangling her posters from the bus windows.

"There's no possible way I didn't win the popular vote," she says.

Cole says it's difficult not to draw parallels between her own fifth-grade experience, and the 2016 presidential election.

"The silliness, the mud-slinging, name-calling, and not really discussing issues, per say, just pandering to the views and fears of the masses on either side," she says. "My 5th grade election has all the tidbits of this year's election, in my opinion."

Which scares her, she says, "because this is not fifth grade; this is the United States of America. This is the real deal."

Cole says she probably won't even vote this year — a far-cry from her early political fervor. 

That memorable loss may have marked the end of her political career, but she'll never forget the fame.

Andrea Tudhope is a freelance reporter and producer for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter @adtudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.