Getting out the vote
As the nation gears up for Election Day, Nov. 3, Kids Voting USA is encouraging students below voting age to join their parents at the polls and cast mock ballots.
"We want to deliver the actual voting experience," said Cynthia Dunne, a spokeswoman for the Tempe, Ariz., nonprofit organization that works to involve students in the electoral process. With 36 governor's races this fall and hundreds of state and federal legislative contests, states are holding voting rallies, discussions, and debates aimed at helping youngsters learn about politics.
This month, for example, Illinois, Michigan, South Dakota, and Virginia held rallies, while the Kids Voting chapter in Colorado sponsored a gubernatorial debate, Ms. Dunne said. In California, hundreds of students were set to convene in San Jose last week to participate in debates over bilingual education and tribal casinos, among other issues. Local politicians and candidates planned to address students and share their views.
The idea is for students to interact with candidates as much as possible. "We want them to find out as much as they can before they cast a vote," Ms. Dunne said.
On Election Day, students accompanied by a parent or guardian can visit official polling sites and cast ballots in their own voting booths. They vote on the same candidates and issues as adults, and Kids Voting USA officials tally the results. More than 5 million students are expected to take part in the mock vote Nov. 3.
Kids Voting USA, which draws on what organizers say is a Costa Rican tradition of children accompanying their parents to the polls, has helped boost voter turnout among adults by as much as 10 percent since its inception in 1988, according to postelection research conducted by Arizona State University in 1996.
The organization, meanwhile, has found that students and their parents don't necessarily vote the same way. "Students' votes vary issue by issue," Ms. Dunne said. Students tend to be more tuned in than their parents to election issues related to school bonds or the environment.
The nonprofit group has also created a K-12 curriculum built around Election Day. Kids Voting has network chapters in 40 states and the District of Columbia. For more information about Kids Voting USA, call (602) 921-3727 or visit its World Wide Web site at www.kidsvotingusa.org.
--ADRIENNE D. COLES [email protected]
Vol. 18, Issue 7, Page 17