Justin Martin, 11 in the 5th grade, casts his vote...

Justin Martin, 11 in the 5th grade, casts his vote as he and other students of Barack Obama Elementary School learn about voting in Hempstead, New York. (Oct. 16, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Students at Barack Obama Elementary School in Hempstead got a crash course in electoral politics Tuesday morning, just hours before the school's namesake took on his rival, former Gov. Mitt Romney, in the second presidential debate a few miles away.

More than 500 students first gathered in shifts in the gymnasium to watch a video on the history of voting from ancient Rome to the present. Afterward, students discussed the current candidates' platforms in their classrooms before casting their votes in a mock election.

"Because this is Barack Obama Elementary School does not mean . . . that you have to vote for Barack Obama," Principal Helisse Palmore said. "Being able to vote is your right and that is a decision that you make . . . That is something that is very personal and very private."

Later, students formed lines behind a curtain that separated them from the ballot booth beneath a red, white and blue archway of balloons.

Fifth-grader Jalen Robinson, 10, of Hempstead, said he thought the process was exciting.

"Voting makes me feel like we're at a real election," he said. "I was really hoping Obama was going to come to the school" before the debate.

Angelica Bishop, 10, of Hempstead, offered an issue that the candidates should keep in mind. "We should have less gangs in the parks where kids play, so we can feel safe," she said.

Shortly after 1:30 p.m., a handful of students gathered in Palmore's office to count the ballots, along with teaching assistants.

The final tally: 467 for Obama, 40 for Romney.

"I was kind of expecting that because the school is named after Barack Obama, so naturally kids would vote for Barack Obama," said Leslie Cobb, 10, of Hempstead.

An announcement was made over the loudspeaker with the results. When students in Carlos Acosta's fourth-grade bilingual class heard that Obama won, some clapped and others danced in their seats.

The elementary school is believed to be the first public school in the nation to rename itself -- officially in February 2009 -- after the 44th president.

When students were dismissed from school, many carried small American flags. They also received a document encouraging their parents to vote.

With Gary Dymski