Katie Woung is part of a trickle-up movement to improve electoral politics.
"It's important young people discover the power that comes with voting," said Woung, a Lawrence High School junior. "Our hope is parents will pick up on what their kids are involved in."
Woung isn't eligible to vote yet, but she's a volunteer with the nonpartisan Kids Voting USA project in Lawrence. She'll be among more than 100,000 Kansans to participate in 2002 Kids Voting activities. Nationally, about 5 million will be involved.
This is the only program of its kind that enables students to visit official polling sites on election day Nov. 5 to cast a ballot similar in content to the official version. The expectation is that students will bring along adults who don't make a habit of voting.
It also teaches youths through a special curriculum, family participation and community involvement the importance of being well-informed before pulling the curtain closed in a voting booth.
For the 10th year, students of all grades in Lawrence public schools will learn about the election process, study candidates and issues, and register to vote in their classrooms through the Kids Voting project.
The Journal-World sponsors the program in cooperation with Roger Hill Volunteer Center and school districts in Douglas County.
Effect on students
Diana Carlin, chairwoman of Kids Voting Kansas and dean of the Graduate School at Kansas University, said work during the past decade was changing voting behavior among youth.
About 20 percent of 18-year-old Americans go to the polls nationally. In Kids Voting counties in Kansas, two-thirds of people that age vote on election day.
"The good news is that the research shows that what you do when first eligible to vote is what you're likely to do for the rest of your life," Carlin said.
Ron Thornburgh, the Kansas secretary of state, said the Kids Voting program had also drawn adults into the mix. That byproduct has been labeled the trickle-up effect.
He said research showed voter turnout among adults had increased as much as 5 percent in Kids Voting counties. Adults who have children in the Kids Voting curriculum are better informed about candidates and issues, he said.
One of the program's goals is for students talk about politics at home.
"I really do think we are making a difference," Thornburgh said.
To prepare for Kids Voting activities, about 200 high school students from across the state attended Capitol Assembly, an annual event sponsored by Kids Voting Kansas.
Woung joined students from LHS and Free State High School at the Statehouse for mock elections and debates about issues important to teenagers.
Students considered prayer in school, mandatory drug testing of athletes and legalization of marijuana.
But the Lawrence students also were interested in local issues, including the district's new pay-to-ride bus system and the teaching of evolution in the classroom.
The state's problems financing public education also were of interest to them.
"People don't want to pay taxes but want good education," said LHS student Phillip Wrigley.
Steve Grant, chairman of the social studies department at Free State, said more students had been zeroing in on education topics. The district's decision to have students pay a fee to participate in sports and other after-school activities made it so.
"It's affected these kids quite a bit," Grant said. "I know in all the classes, especially the government classes, there will be a lot of talk about the candidates."
Among teenagers, there appears to be broad distrust of politicians even students involved in Kids Voting.
"All politicians have that slimy edge to them," said LHS student Harry Swartz, who went to Capitol Assembly.
Classmate Liz Stuewe added: "Sometimes they're the lesser of two evils."
But these students and others are willing to do more than complain. They're committed to improving the system through Kids Voting, which has as its core goal securing democracy's future by educating people about the election process now.
"There is a lot of work to do," Wrigley said.