If you ask Ernie May, the Kids Voting Kansas pilot project was an overwhelming success. He took his daughter Rebecca, 8, with him when he voted Tuesday morning.
"I thought it was the most pleasurable experience in voting I ever had," he said Tuesday night at an election watch party at Lawrence High School to cap off the Kids Voting project. The program was designed to instill good voting habits in young people and use the enthusiasm of children to get their parents to the polls.
May said he was surprised at Rebecca's knowledge of the candidates and voting rules, and he hopes schools will continue the Kids Voting program. When he goes to parent-teacher conferences next week, he said, he'll thank Rebecca's teachers for their hard work.
"I appreciated it," he said. "She had a lot of enthusiasm and I think that's something we have to carry over, train in our kids and really get them interested in voting."
Several adults at the party agreed with May about the program's success. Barbara Murphy, second-grade teacher at Kennedy Elementary School, said the students' enthusiasm was impressive, and she hopes they will keep reading the newspaper, watching television and talking to their parents about politics throughout the year to keep that enthusiasm alive.
"BY THE time they're of voting age, this country's got to be in better shape," she said.
Dolph Simons III, community task force coordinator for the Kids Voting program and operations manager of the Journal-World, said the program was a great success, with more than 4,500 Lawrence area school children taking an active role in the election.
"We enjoyed wonderful cooperation from many Lawrence teachers and we had a large number of volunteers who helped in many ways,'' he said.
"I am sure those school children who participated in the program have a much better understanding and knowledge of the election process and they know far more about issues and personalities in the campaign,'' Simons said. ``It was a winning program in every respect.''
Trish Bransky, assistant principal at Lawrence High School, said she was impressed by the involvement of high school students. They worked past 9 p.m. to tally Kids Voting ballots.
Participating in the decision-making process is important because it helps students develop public speaking and critical thinking skills, Bransky said. She added that participation is a great teaching tool.
"If this is any indication of how involved the kids can get, I think it's a successful pilot," she said.
Danika Oswalt Reitz, 10, voted with her father, Robert Reitz, on Tuesday morning. She attended the party with her mother, Ronda Oswalt Reitz, who said Danika became more interested in the debates, the presidential candidates and local issues because of her participation in Kids Voting.
Young students should learn the importance of being responsible for choosing the leadership of the country, Oswalt Reitz said, before they become old enough to exercise that responsibility.
THE PROGRAM was also successful at increasing the number of adults who exercised their right to vote. Tony and Debbie Fulks, who are both 30, voted for the first time in their lives this year because their daughter, Antonia, a fifth-grader at Woodlawn School, was so active in Kids Voting. Antonia's kindergarten-age sister, Deidra, also voted through Kids Voting.
Antonia, Tony and Debbie all voted for Gov. Bill Clinton. Tony said he found the experience encouraging.
"I think everybody's vote does count, and to be successful, with our candidate winning the election, it'll probably encourage me to vote again next time around," he said.
Tony said the voting process "wasn't quite as complicated as the wife and I thought it would be."
The whole family voted together at Grant School Tuesday evening.
Debbie Fulks said, "I think it's kind of nice that I got involved the year my man's going to win."
Antonia stayed awake as long as she could Tuesday night to watch the national election results.
Debbie said Deidra was kind of upset that her choice, President Bush, did not win.
"I tried to explain to her that it was all right, that at least we voted," Debbie said.