Kids get into voting habit early

The youth vote

Posted: Tuesday, November 07, 2000

At an age when many small children are preoccupied with naptime, 4-year-old Holly Nelson was choosing the country's next president.

But she didn't cast her vote by punching a hole in a ballot she colored all over the candidate's face, grinning back at her from a mock ballot designed for young children.

Disfigurement by crayon is high praise for America's presidential hopefuls in Juneau's Kids Voting program, which encourages students to vote with their parents on election day. But presidential elections can be a frightful thing and some kids need a little coaxing.

"I was scared," Holly said this morning. "I hid over there," she said, pointing down a hallway at Floyd Dryden Middle School, one of 19 local polling places.

Kids' ballots don't really count in the final tally, but sponsors of the program figure people who vote young are more likely to vote as adults, especially between the ages of 18 and 24. Only 22 percent of adults in that age group voted in Alaska's 1998 election, which reflects a national trend, said Marjorie Menzi, who helped bring the program to Juneau in 1996.

"Hopefully they'll get into the habit of voting and vote when they're 18," said Menzi, a board member for Kids Voting.

The program teaches kids how to research issues and candidate positions, but organizers also hope to kindle debates at the dinner table between kids and parents on issues and candidates, perhaps prompting more interest in elections among adults, too.

"(The program) has taken some adults to the polls who might not otherwise have bothered to go," said Menzi.

But 13-year-old Kasey Dixon's vote was informed more by television, and Democrat Al Gore's antics before the camera appealed to her sense of humor, she said.

"He's kind of funny on TV," said Dixon, a seventh-grader. "He likes to make fun of George Bush."

Gore made less of an impression on 12-year-old Sonny Kesterson, a Floyd Dryden student. "I don't remember who I voted for. I think it was Al Gore," she said.

Students in grades four to 12 also cast votes on issues. Dixon voted no on Ballot Measure 5, which would legalize marijuana, saying "it's not healthy for people to smoke pot."

Yvette Morales,12, was concerned about Ballot Measure 6, which would ban same-day-airborne hunting of wolves. She said the use of planes for hunting should be restricted.

"That's like cheating - taking the easy way out," Morales said.

Kids Voting began in Arizona after some business people there went to Costa Rica and noticed voter turnout was nearly 95 percent, Menzi said.

"They said 'Gee, why is this true there when we have such poor voter turnout in the United States?' " she said.

Costa Ricans attributed the high turnout to the fact young children there go to the polls with their parents and vote, said Menzi. "So they brought (the program) to Arizona in the 1980s." It was introduced here in 1996.

Youths, like adults, have until 8 tonight to cast their votes. Kids Voting will tally them tonight.

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