If more Americans are to get into the habit of voting, perhaps they should be allowed access to the polls at an earlier age.
That's the philosophy behind Kids Voting, a pilot program under way this year in Lawrence and four other Kansas communities. Jim Maag, chairman of the state's Kids Voting steering committee, told members of the Lawrence Rotary Club about the program on Monday.
Maag, who also is senior vice president of the Kansas Bankers Assn., said the program will urge students grades kindergarten through 12 to vote alongside their parents in the November general election. Although the votes of students younger than 18 will not count, they will be tabulated.
And, Maag said, it is hoped that students will develop a lifelong habit of voting.
"The key element is to make sure all children become comfortable with the voting process," Maag said. "It's a very exciting concept, and it's something that we hope will be sweeping the country over the next few years."
THE PROGRAM started as a pilot project in Arizona in 1988 and went statewide there in 1990. In the 1990 general election, more than 130,000 Arizona school children went to the polls. It is estimated that the program also resulted in about 20,000 additional adults registering to vote, largely because adults wanted to be able to vote with their children.
Kansas is among 11 states participating in the program this year. In addition to Lawrence, the cities of Newton, Junction City, Maize and Winfield will take part in this year's pilot program. Maag said organizers would like to see Kids Voting go statewide in 1994.
Maag said a districtwide task force will be created to plan the implementation of the program in the Lawrence school district. He said teachers will be expected to work with students on a curriculum lasting six to 12 hours. Kindergartners, for example, will take a vote on which they like better ice cream or cake before going to the polls.
"THE CURRICULUM obviously gets tougher as you go up," Maag said.
"How enthusiastically the teachers promote the curriculum is going to be a very important part of any success of the program," Maag added. "We've had awfully good, enthusiastic responses from teachers in the communities so far."
The Lawrence Journal-World will be a major sponsor of the Kids Voting program in Lawrence. Maag said the media in the other participating communities also will play a key role in the program.
Maag said political scientists at the state's universities are "frothing at the mouth" to participate in the program and evaluate its results. He said a hot topic in Arizona was how the students' votes compared to those of their parents.
"Our ultimate goal is to go out of business, to have so much involvement . . . that this kind of program won't be necessary," Maag said.