The army of student pollsters fanned out to voting sites as the sun warmed a chilly Tuesday morning. Some adults left the voting booths and shot suspicious glances toward the clipboard-toting youthful interlopers.
More often than not, the voters opened up and shared who they voted for — and the students were all ears.
Anne Adragna, a 17-year-old senior at the private University School of the Lowcountry in Mount Pleasant, was one of the students who helped poll 24 precincts in Tuesday's general election. Students at her school have been conducting exit polls for nine years, often with pinpoint accuracy. This year's poll was no exception.
"It went much better than I expected, honestly," Adragna said. "Just the general demeanor of the people ... Most people were in a good mood, the lines were moving pretty quickly, and once we explained what we were doing a lot of the initial wariness went away."
With a sample size of 1,900, the exit polling nailed the outcome of nearly every race in Charleston County this year, including Democrat Mary Tinkler's narrow victory over longtime incumbent Treasurer Andy Smith.
The students also correctly called a win for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Charleston County, where she carried 51 percent of the vote. The exit polls showed 54 percent support for Clinton, who ultimately lost South Carolina and the national election to Republican Donald Trump.
Adragna lamented the fact that few voters seemed fired up about local elections like the race for five school board seats. She also said she's "very bitter" that her 18th birthday won't come for a few more months. She would have voted for Clinton.
"I can't believe that our (next) president gets into feuds with beauty queens at three in the morning, would like to ban large groups of people, has been accused of sexual assault," she said. "I have no idea how that happened."
Adragna's school, which serves grades 3-12, has a unique weekly experiential learning component known as Learning Outside the Classroom. This year, that has included trips to see Trump on the aircraft carrier Yorktown, Clinton in North Charleston and Marco Rubio at the Omar Shrine Temple. One observation from Adragna: She met more gung-ho Trump supporters at a February rally for the candidate in Walterboro. Here in Charleston County, she said most Trump supporters told her they just wanted to stop Clinton.
T.J. Medlock, a school staffer who coordinates job shadow placement and teaches physical education, said the polling is an unforgettable hands-on lesson in everything from statistics to civics. Students have shaken hands with the candidates, formed their own opinions and learned to take a skeptical view of political messaging. It's going to be a lively week for class discussion.
"Research shows that if you just see something and move on, you don’t retain as much or you don’t learn as much as if you discuss it," Medlock said.
On Thursday, the students will begin to debrief in earnest. There will be class forums, personal reflections and a history lesson like no other.
But on Wednesday, as the students came down from an Election Day adrenaline rush, they spent the day outdoors at Middleton Place. They climbed trees, spent time with water buffalo and watched a blacksmith hammer raw iron into hooks. For some, it was a welcome reprieve.
"Some of the kids came in hot with opinions," Medlock said. "But since we got here things have gotten quieter."