A group of local residents met Wednesday to begin preparing for a "magical moment" for Lawrence children and youth the opportunity to vote in this November's general election.
Lawrence is one of five Kansas communities participating in Kids Voting USA, a program that aims to develop good voting habits in U.S. citizens at an early age.
On Wednesday, about 30 local residents attended an informational meeting on Kids Voting, and several of them volunteered to serve on a community task force that will help coordinate the local program.
Marilyn Evans, president and executive director of Kids Voting USA, told the group, "Voting should be a magical moment. It should be an extraordinary and powerful moment for all of us."
Unfortunately, Evans said, statistics on voter turnout in this country indicate that many U.S. citizens don't treasure their right to vote. She noted that in the most recent presidential election, only 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
Evans, who is from Tempe, Ariz., said Kids Voting aims to instill good voting habits by providing children the opportunity to "vote" alongside their parents in general elections. Although the votes of students under the age of 18 won't count in the official totals, those votes will be tabulated by volunteers.
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 with their parents.
Kansas is among 11 states participating in the program this year. In addition to Lawrence, the Kansas communities of Newton, Junction City, Maize and Winfield will take part in this year's pilot program.
To prepare students for the election, Lawrence schools will use a curriculum developed by about 100 Arizona teachers. A committee involving Lawrence teachers will work this summer to adapt the Arizona curriculum to Kansas.
Committees in the other four participating communities also will make suggested changes, and the state Department of Education will develop a uniform curriculum for teachers to use.
EVANS SAID the curriculum covers grades kindergarten through 12. She said kindergartners might start out by voting on whether they prefer ice cream or cookies.
"The whole class gets the sense of making a decision together via an election," Evans said.
Although the kindergartners won't get into all the complex issues surrounding the presidential election, the students will discuss aspects of good leadership before making their presidential pick.
Evans said older students will listen to debates, make judgments, and try to determine what's fact and what's fiction in political advertisements. The goal, she said, is for students to develop skills for acquiring information and making decisions.
Seven Lawrence elementary schools, South Junior High School and Lawrence High School already have agreed to participate in the program.
MELISSA MASONER, project director for Kids Voting Kansas, said that because Lawrence schools were approached about the program during a busy part of the school year, some schools perhaps have not yet decided whether to take part. All schools in the district are welcome to participate.
Paul Stuewe, a social studies teacher at LHS, said the Kids Voting program makes sense.
"When you look at why 55- to 65-year-olds vote more than anybody else, part of that is because they have a tradition of voting and being a participant in the process," Stuewe said.
Stuewe said the Kids Voting program will fit in well at LHS, where students in the past participated in mock elections at the time of general elections.
THE LOCAL community task force will be in charge of such areas as voter registration, public relations, special events, organizing the election and finding volunteers to work the polls.
The Lawrence Journal-World is the major sponsor of the local Kids Voting program, and Dolph Simons III, operations manager at the Journal-World, volunteered to serve as coordinator of the task force.
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.
The community task force will next meet on July 9. People interested in serving on the task force can call Simons at the Journal-World, 843-1000.