They hail from international capitals — Brussels, Chisinau, Khartoum, Bangkok, Cairo, Hanoi and more — and their postings just may become the next homes for a grass-roots form of entry-level democracy.
Kids Voting USA, the international version.
“It’s an excellent program,” said Anna Girvan, one of 25 officials from U.S. embassies who visited Lawrence on Election Day, to observe local schoolchildren casting unofficial ballots for everything from U.S. Senate to Willow Springs Township clerk. “I could see there would be uses for it all over the world.”
Girvan, director of the Information Resource Centre at the U.S. Embassy in London, plans to discuss the program with colleagues in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, after hearing from none other than the project’s national chairwoman: Diana Carlin, a Lawrence resident and professor of communication studies at Kansas University.
“It’s one of the things we’ll certainly extoll when we get back,” said Girvan, who earlier had visited Hillcrest School to see children vote. “Kids are the new generation of voters and … they also educate their parents. And that’s the future. It’s extremely important.”
Kids Voting, founded in 1992 and now based in Topeka, has about three dozen programs operating in 19 states. Among them are Kids Voting Kansas, for which Carlin serves on its board, and Kids Voting Douglas County, whose headquarters Carlin used Tuesday to address the officials seeking information about how such programs might prove popular and useful abroad.
In democracies both emerging and enduring, Carlin said, adults must learn to vote. And the earlier they start, the better chance they have of continuing through adulthood.
Kids Voting even includes a curriculum for students as young as kindergarten and continuing up through high school.
“You really have to get people used to the idea of voting and how that’s done,” said Carlin, who has advised international audiences on elections and debates on behalf of the U.S. State Department. “There’s a lot of education. … It will develop that democratic practice, that democratic mentality.”