The Kids Voting program will be expanded to include 150,000 students before next year's presidential preference primary, says Kansas' chief election officer.
Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh says he has high hopes of improving voter turnout in the future with a new state law and a privately financed voter education program.
"These two pieces are two sides of the same coin," said Thornburgh, who spoke to the Lawrence Kiwanis Club Thursday night at Lawrence's Ramada Inn.
Thornburgh spoke about a new "advance voting" law and about Kids Voting, saying the programs should work together to improve voter turnout.
Kids Voting is a program designed to educate the state's school children about the opportunity to register and to vote. The program, which was started in 1992 in Kansas, involved 47,000 children in the last election in 17 communities, including Lawrence. Under the program, children learn about the electoral process at their schools and then accompany their parents to the polls, where the youngsters cast their own "ballots." The Journal-World has been a sponsor of the program in Lawrence since 1992.
In 1996, the program is expected to include 150,000 children in grades kindergarten through 12. And by the year 2002, the program will be statewide.
"Our goal is to create lifelong voting habits within these students," he said. "The kindergartners will have voted in six different elections by the time they turn 18 years of age. They will have been voting literally all of their life."
And they will be ready to join the election process when they reach 18. He said voting is lightest in the 18 to 30 age group. But voter turnout has increased by 3 percent in the 17 communities where the program is under way.
"These students are going home and educating their parents and are dragging them to the polling place on Election Day," he said.
Thornburgh said the Kansas Legislature approved a new law that will go into effect July 1 that will allow every voter to cast a ballot up to a week before election day.
"Advance voting takes the concept of a single-day election and shatters that," he said. "We will still have the election at the polling place on election day. However, we take the concept of absentee voting, in which you must be sick, disabled or away from the county on Election Day and we've eliminated those barriers."
Voters can contact the county election office -- the county clerk in Douglas County -- and have a ballot sent to them up to three weeks before the election. Thornburgh predicted 40 percent to 50 percent of voters would use the system.
"We've made voting as convenient as we possibly can," he said. "Until we can sit home and cast votes through the remote control on the TV during commercials of `Seinfeld,' voting simply cannot become more convenient than we have made it through this process."