Man campaigns to expand Kids Voting program
GSPI Managing Editor
On Nov. 2, when voters go to the polls for the national election, Garfield County public school students will be able to cast ballots for the same races.
Kids Voting, a nationwide program that’s been active in the Parachute schools for the past three years, is now spreading to include schools from Rifle to Basalt.
Richard Doran of Battlement Mesa, the local volunteer who has coordinated the voting program in District 16, is campaigning for volunteers to help run the voting program in the neighboring school districts.
“The challenge is to take this program from 900 kids to 9,000, and from four precincts to 27,” Doran said.
He has won approval from administrators in the Garfield Re-2 and Roaring Fork Re-1 school districts to bring Kids Voting to those schools for the Nov. 2 election. He also has the full support of Garfield County Clerk Mildred Alsdorf, who manages the election.
Through the program, students from kindergarten through 12th grade will spend September and October studying candidates and issues on the ballot, Doran said.
It’s a chance for high school students in Honor Society, student council and the school newspaper staff to sponsor debates. Middle school students could compete in an essay contest, and elementary students might get involved with a poster contest, Doran said.
“I love kids. I love challenging them,” said Doran, who retired in 1997 from owning a wholesale building materials business in Phoenix.
If kids want to vote, they must register by Oct. 6, the same deadline as for adult voters.
On Election Day, students will go to the county’s 27 precinct polling places to vote.
“We have our own booth and ballot box,” Doran said. Kids must present their registration card, and they’ll get an “I Voted” sticker just like adult voters.
Many will go with their parents, which encourages parents to vote, he said.
“I haven’t seen anything in school that’s done more for generating good citizens than Kids Voting, and it’s not even part of the curriculum,” Doran said.
High school students will be paired with an adult volunteer to serve as election judges for the kids’ vote.
The ballots will include all the questions that adult voters will face, but they will look different.
Since kids in kindergarten, first and second grades can’t read well, they will only vote on candidates for president, senator and congressman ” with the help of pictures for each candidate.
Students in grades 3, 4 and 5 will also vote on state ballot questions, but there won’t be any pictures for these items. High school students will be asked to rewrite complicated ballot questions so young kids can understand them.
Students in grades 6 through 12 will vote the entire ballot, including state legislators, judges, county commissioners, the district attorney and surveyor.
“The ultimate object is to get kids so oriented to this concept, they’ll grow up to be active voters,” Doran said. He noted that he got a 70 percent voter turnout in District 16 for Kids Voting in 2003, compared to 9 percent when he launched the program in 2000.
At a time when turnout for voters 18 to 21 years old is about 20 percent, Doran believes Kids Voting is a great training ground to boost participation.
In 2003, he rewarded the class with the highest turnout ” a sixth grade class at Bea Underwood Elementary in which every kid voted ” with a pizza party.
Kids Voting also gives students at each high school a chance to add survey questions to the ballot.
In the 2003 Kids Voting election, Grand Valley High School students asked three additional questions to poll classmates on the importance of saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day, preferences for class scheduling, and which of four academic subject areas best prepares kids for success after high school.
After the election, Kids Voting results will be broken apart by precinct, and students can study results from different areas, and compare them to the results from adult voters.
For example, in the 2003 election, Parachute and Battlement Mesa voters narrowly defeated a $1 million mill levy override question, 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. But the measure passed by a wide margin in the Kids Voting poll, 64 to 36 percent.
Doran is eager to put together a working group of volunteers throughout the county to make Kids Voting a success at all the schools. For information, call Doran at 285-9525.
Contact Heather McGregor: 945-8515, ext. 517
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