Election Education Efforts Let Students Practice Voting

October 20, 2004 3 min read

With the presidential campaign in its final weeks, voter education and recruitment programs have been pushing to promote student interest and participation in the electoral process.

One of the largest election programs for students is organized by the Tempe, Ariz.-based Kids Voting USA. The nonprofit and nonpartisan effort is targeting 4.3 million students in districts nationwide.

The main thrust of the effort is to have student participants go to actual polling places on Nov. 2 with their parents and cast their votes by filling out official-looking ballots at designated Kids Voting USA booths or tables. In states where children are not allowed in polling areas, the organization plans to have buses located outside where they can place their votes.

“The main purpose is to educate children about the importance of voting and democracy, and to make them understand that participation is the way to make their voices heard,” said Paula Case, a spokeswoman for Kids Voting USA.

Meanwhile, the Web sites of the Time For Kids newsmagazine and the Public Broadcasting Service have Election Day online voting programs for students not yet old enough to vote. PBS also has a campaign called “Zoomout the Vote” that encourages children to persuade their parents, and other adults, to register and vote. The program—based on the PBS television show “Zoom,” which is hosted by seven children who put viewers’ letters into action—has netted more than 31,000 newly registered adult voters.

In addition, Scholastic Inc., a New York City-based educational publisher, ran an election poll through last week for elementary and middle school students, who could fill out a mail-in ballot from Scholastic News or Junior Scholastic, or vote online.

The results of the poll, scheduled to be released online this week, have correctly predicted the winner of almost every presidential election since the poll began in 1940. The two exceptions were 1948, when students chose Thomas E. Dewey over Harry S. Truman, and 1960, when they chose Richard M. Nixon over John F. Kennedy, according to Rebecca Bondor, the editor in chief of Scholastic classroom magazines.

‘Make a Difference’

Another large national endeavor to foster youth interest in voting is the National Student/ Parent Mock Election. Powered by state affiliates, where elections are run by secretaries of state, state election directors, and in some cases students, its balloting takes place five days before the real election—National Mock Election Day, this year on Oct. 28.

Gloria Kirshner, the president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tucson, Ariz.-based organization, said that it’s important to have a day just for young people’s voices to be heard.

“The whole idea is to turn the sense of powerlessness that keeps young people from going to the polls into a sense of participation,” said Ms. Kirshner, “and to help them realize they can make a difference.”

Some private education companies are also contributing to youth-voting efforts.

K12 Technologies, a division of the Wiredmax Corp. in Richmond, Ill., has set up a free Web-based voting program for teachers to use in the classroom. The program, called K12 Vote, was released this month and allows teachers to have their students vote not only on the presidential choice, but also in mock state, local, and in-school elections, according to David Stedman, the general manager of K12 Technologies.

Mr. Stedman added that even if schools present the voting only as a game, the students will see that it is important enough for their teachers to spend time on.

“It shows them that participation is important,” Mr. Stedman said. “And that’s what we want to get across.”

So far, the program has registered 240 schools across the country, according to Mr. Stedman, who said the goal is 600 schools and 500,000 youth votes.

‘Engaged Citizens’

In addition to the mock elections and online simulated voting programs, numerous groups across the country are working to register high school students as soon as they are old enough to vote.

Such programs include Rock the Vote, an independent project that is best known for its partnership with MTV’s “Choose or Lose” voting campaign; the Youth Vote Coalition; the New Voters Project; Declare Yourself; Smackdown Your Vote, sponsored by World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.; Freedom’s Answer; and Citizen Change, founded by the entertainer Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and known for its slogan “Vote or Die!”

Amy Zall of PBS’ “Zoom” noted that studies have shown that people who start volunteering at a younger age are more likely to volunteer when they are older. “We think it’s the same with voting,” she said. “[We are] laying the groundwork for kids to be active and engaged citizens.”