When you head to the polls Tuesday, don’t forget to bring your children as they, too, will be able to voice their unofficial opinion regarding who should hold various county, state and federal offices.
Kids Voting is a national nonpartisan organization aimed at children and is dedicated to increasing voter participation for the long term. Organizers say the numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds casting official ballots typically rises by 25 to 30 percentage points in communities where Kids Voting programs are active.
Perhaps no one is more aware the effect Kids Voting has had on our community than are parents and the volunteers who have been directly involved in the program.
“It is a great learning experience for our children in how the democratic process works,” says Lawrence resident and Kids Voting volunteer Ernesto Hodison. “It helps them to understand the rights and responsibilities we have as citizens. The more informed they are, the more engaged they will be throughout their life in their civic participation.”
Not only has Hodison seen how Kids Voting helps children to learn the democratic process, he has also watched how the program facilitates the kind of discourse inherent in any democracy.
“Several years back there were two siblings who were voting,” Hodison says. “They were supporting different candidates and began to debate the merits of their candidates so vigorously that their mom had to step in and give them a little lesson on civility.”
Lawrence resident and longtime Kids Voting volunteer Teresa McGuire remembers the first time she volunteered and her two daughters accompanied her to the polls.
“The first time I watched my two girls vote my older daughter (Samantha, now 24) held up her younger sister, Lexi (now 19) to complete her ballot. I saw that, and I was hooked!”
One Lawrence parent who will have her two daughters, Alison, 14 and Zoë, 9, accompany her to the polls Tuesday is Susan Chi.
“My girls have learned a lot from this program, from learning that their votes are anonymous to learning that it takes effort to learn about the issues, some of which have become very important to them,” she says.
According to program director Ruthi Rapp, more than 4,000 children in Douglas County participated in the 2008 election.
While Kids Voting volunteers expect a smaller turnout in this non-presidential election year, children will still be able to cast their ballots at 46 of 67 polling sites in the area.
“Some neighborhoods just don’t have many families with children,” says Rapp. “And when there’s a nearby polling site to which students can be directed, that’s the best use of space and available volunteers.”