Rutherford County students participate in the first-ever Tennessee Student Mock Election, Thurman Francis Arts Academy

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PHOTO BY JAMES EVANS: Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, center, holds a press conference at Thurman Francis Arts Academy in Smyrna to announce the results of the state's first student mock election for president. He is flanked by Thurman Francis teacher Linette McFarlin and students Mason Hall and Thelma Yankey, who also spoke at the press conference about their participation in the mock election.

Republican nominee Donald Trump won the first-ever Tennessee Student Mock Election with an overwhelming margin of support from the more than 165,000 votes cast from students throughout Tennessee.

Trump earned 53.1 percent of the vote in the historic statewide mock election and would have been the next president of the United States had students been casting real ballots.

Student-voters represented 479 schools from 90 of the state's 95 counties including Rutherford County.

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Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett made the announcement at a press conference that was streamed live on Facebook from the school library at Thurman Francis Arts Academy in Smyrna.

"I'm thrilled that so many students and teachers from across our great state got behind this project with such passion," Hargett said in a release that was made available following the press conference.

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Hargett used the event to encourage Tennesseans to #GoVoteTN next Tuesday.

"Hopefully giving civics such an important role in the classroom translates into engaged citizens who continue exercising their right to vote when they are old enough to vote in real elections," Hargett added.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton earned 34.3 percent of the vote, while Gary Johnson earned five percent and four others - Roque De La Fuente, Jill Stein, Alyson Kennedy and Mike Smith - earned no more than 2.3 percent.

Trump received 88,208 actual votes.

Clinton received 56,935 votes.

Students in all grade levels participated, including those who attend Thurman Francis Arts Academy, where Trump edged out Clinton by merely four votes.

"It is important the students begin practicing what they will legally be able to do when they turn 18," said Linette McFarlin, a seventh and eighth-grade social studies teacher at Thurman Francis. "Voting allows citizens to have a voice by choosing representatives who reflect their personal philosophies, as well as being able to affect government policies.

"Since TFAA's results showed a difference of only four votes between Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, students truly learned how much each individual vote counts."

In addition to Hargett and McFarlin, two students - Mason Hall and Thelma Yankey - spoke at Wednesday's press event.

Hall said, "I voted for Donald Trump because he's a businessman."

Hall referenced Trump's plan to lower taxes and acknowledged that some people may not approve Trump's entire plan, but that's why Congress has a "system of checks and balances" and that "overall Trump's plan will make America great again."

Hargett congratulated Hall and Yankey, who spoke of her support of Clinton, on the essays they wrote in class and later read during the press conference.

Results of the mock election closely resemble recent trends in Tennessee voting.

Tennesseans have supported republicans in the past four presidential elections, including 2012 when 59.5 percent of the votes cast were for Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan. However, the pair lost the electoral vote to Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who narrowly won re-election.

McFarlin referenced a previous statement from Hargett in which he said, "I believe our government works better when its citizens are engaged."

McFarlin added, "America is a wonderful democracy where each individual, 18 years of age and older, has a constitutional right to vote. Here at Thurman Francis, we want our students to learn how the real world works. Almost weekly, representative government is a topic of discussion in our history classes, especially in the middle school."

Jeff McCann, first-year principal at Thurman Francis Arts Academy, was joined at the announcement by Rutherford County Director of Schools Don Odom and State Rep. Mike Sparks.

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