One thing that both Democrats and Republicans agree on is the need to get more people involved in the election process, and local party leaders say the Kids Voting program could be a good way to accomplish that goal.
Lawrence is one of five Kansas communities participating this year in Kids Voting Kansas, in which students grades kindergarten through 12 will go to the polls in November.
Teachers will present a special curriculum to students to prepare them for the election. And although the votes of students under the age of 18 won't count in the official totals, those votes will be tabulated by volunteers.
Chris Miller, Douglas County Republican chairman, said of the program, "If having the kids involved will get the parents out to vote, I'm 200 percent in favor of it. Our voting record here in this country is dismal. Anything that will improve that, to me, is a good thing."
A Kids Voting program in Arizona indicates that many adults are more likely to vote if their children are going to the polls. It is estimated that 20,000 additional adults registered to vote in Arizona because of the state's 1990 Kids Voting program.
LOUISE SILBER, Douglas County Democratic chair, said, "A program like this, if it is continued, can have a really strong effect on the behavior of these kids as adults.
"We cannot do a democracy with only 25 percent of the voters participating. I don't want to see it disappear because of apathy and the disinterest of voters."
Melissa Masoner, project director for Kids Voting Kansas, said that while the program curriculum definitely will be non-partisan, participation in the program will be bipartisan since both Democrats and Republicans will be involved in such things as voter registration and voter forums.
To date, seven Lawrence elementary schools have committed to participating in the pilot program this fall. South Junior High School and Lawrence High School also have committed to participating in the program.
MASONER SAID she expects other schools to join the program in the fall. She said that because schools were first approached about Kids Voting in May, the faculty at some schools may have been too busy wrapping up the school year to discuss the program in depth.
Several Lawrence teachers will be part of a Kids Voting Kansas Curriculum Committee that will adapt the Arizona curriculum to Kansas. In addition, a community task force will help coordinate the local program.
Dolph Simons III, operations manager at the Journal-World, volunteered last Wednesday to serve as coordinator of the task force. Since then, Philip Bradley, owner of PBC Consulting, has volunteered to be assistant coordinator.
"I am pleased that Philip is eager to participate in Kids Voting," Simons said. "He is a graduate of the Lawrence school system, and he is enthused about this program."
BRADLEY noted that "many of our schools and teachers are already doing units in this area, and I think Kids Voting will enhance those programs."
Bradley said he hopes the program will result in "an informed and active citizenry participating in every election."
Several other people have volunteered to serve on the task force and help in such areas as voter registration, public relations, special events, organizing the election and finding volunteers to work the polls.
Masoner said fund-raising for the program will be done at the state level. However, she said, the community task force also can engage in fund-raising if it so desires.
People interested in serving on the task force can call Simons at the Journal-World, 843-1000. The community task force will next meet on July 9.