Dear: Kids Voting North Carolina/Wake County (KV Wake) is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that educates America’s youth about the importance of being informed citizens and the responsibilities of voting to sustain democracy. Kids Voting cuts across all boundaries – geographic, ethnic, cultural, and demographic – to encourage everyone to participate in the voting process. Our organization works with schools, teachers, business leaders and other civic-minded leaders to create an active and informed electorate by engaging students and the community in the democratic process. KV Wake is requesting funds in the amount of $10,000 to help effectively address the increasingly serious issue of low voter turnout in our country, starting in Wake County. In order to secure the future of democracy, KV Wake believes it is imperative we start early and develop lifetime voting habits in our youth.
In 1987 three Arizona businessmen went on a fishing trip to Costa Rica. While visiting, these men observed an official election. They were astounded to learn that Costa Rica has a voter turnout of 80 to 90 percent (compared to the 51.2 percent in the United States in 2000). The attributed reason for such a successful turnout rate is directly linked to the country’s philosophy about the voting process. For more than 40 years, the children of Costa Rica have voted alongside their parents on Election Day. Voting is made a family event and Costa Ricans believe their democracy is safe because their children are exposed to the election process at an early age. These businessmen brought the concept of kids at the polls back with them in 1981 by creating an organization called Kids Voting USA. Over the past 10 years, 39 states have adopted Kids Voting programs. Wake County formed its own Kids Voting organization in 1996, and today is one of nine operating programs in North Carolina.
Kids Voting provides all Wake County teachers access to Civics Alive!, the one-of-a-kind, teacher-acclaimed civics education curriculum from Kids Voting USA. The Kids Voting curriculum is aligned with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study for Social Studies, Language Arts and Mathematics and with current Wake County education standards. It is easy for teachers to individualize lesson plans and efficiently access information about the program. Many of the activities found in the curriculum encourage parent-child discussions as well as classroom dialogue Some of the more popular exercises include giving students the opportunity to register to vote and teaching them how to vote on an absentee ballot.
Students not only learn about the democratic process in their classrooms through the Kids Voting curriculum, but are encouraged to gather information outside of school to make educated decisions on who to vote for at the polls and what issues to support. By doing this, students learn to identify community resources, which help them become active participants in their surroundings. Kids Voting not only teaches students the importance of voting, but also teaches the importance of being an active and informed voter. In addition to the curriculum, our organization provides all Wake County schools with a teacher handbook that highlights upcoming elections for the current year. These handbooks are also available in all public libraries for home school students and parents. The handbook touches on upcoming races and provides a preview of the Kids Voting ballot.
Kids Voting Wake County goes one step further to build on what students learn in the classroom by providing a hands-on voting experience at the polls during each election. On Election Day, students are invited to go to official polling sites to vote on their own ballots in their own voting booths. Results are reported by news media along with official results. Kids Voting and the Wake County Board of Elections work together each year during local and national elections to ensure Kids Voting is in all official Wake County precincts. Since 1996, over 100,000 students have cast Kids Voting ballots in Wake County. Thanks to the help of nearly 3,000 volunteers, almost 34,000 Wake County students cast a ballot during last year’s Presidential Election.
“Students love Kids Voting because they can translate what they learn in class into real life experiences,” said Kathy Revels, an instructional resource teacher at Timber Drive Elementary School in Garner. “Students feel important because they’re voting on the same candidates and issues as adults. We teach students how important voting is to democracy, but it takes hands-on participation like Kids Voting provides for them to understand how important it really is.” Kids Voting programs not only encourage the development of good, strong voting habits among our country’s youth, but has also made great strides with the adult voting population. Research shows that communities with Kids Voting programs increase adult voter turnout from three to five percent. In Wake County, adult voter turnout has increased more than 19 percent, since Kids Voting participated in its first election – from 230,391 in 1996 to 275,112 in 2000 (statistics from the Wake County Board of Elections, January 2001).
Independent research conducted by Kids Voting USA shows that Kids Voting students act as change agents for the non-voting members in their families. The program builds civic-conscious future voters, and boost parents’ interest in the election process. This “trickle up” effect is especially noted among those of low socioeconomic status. Kids Voting gives disadvantaged students the tools they need to learn to become a voice in their community and make a positive difference.
Parents of Kids Voters have told us that they may not have been planning to vote, but ended up at the polls because their children wanted to vote. Kathy Evans, an instructional resource teacher at Olive Chapel Elementary school in Apex told us that her school was a polling site last year and “many parents voted because their children convinced them to get out and vote.” We have also had reports from parents who are not United States citizens and could not vote, but wanted to let us know their children did.
Over the next few years, KV Wake plans to continue its work in Wake County by offering educational programs throughout the year to prepare its students to vote each fall. Through new initiatives, Kids Voting hopes to reach more students in the classroom and their families at home.
Kids Voting is currently making plans to offer a series of teacher training sessions which will introduce our civic program to a large number of new teachers entering the Wake County School System each year. We have found that new teachers are often not exposed to what the Kids Voting program has to offer until an election is upon them.
These training sessions will also offer refreshers to experienced Wake County teachers. Veteran teachers have told us they find the Kids Voting program and curriculum to be a great resource, but often find themselves overwhelmed by heavy workload demands and testing schedules. The sessions we plan to offer will include technical training for our on-line curriculum, as well as, a hands-on review of classroom lessons through sample exercises. Supplements will also be provided to assist teachers in their preparation for upcoming elections.
Electronic Voting is another innovative opportunity we hope to offer a select number of high schools this fall. Many Wake County middle and high schools have computer labs where students take classes and are also allowed access during lunch and after school. KV Wake has been working to develop an electronic voting program that would give students the opportunity to vote at their schools. Technology plays a tremendous role in our everyday lives and we believe this next step is a way to reach students before, during, and after traditional school hours. If successful, we would like to offer this program in each Wake County high school and eventually each Wake County middle school. This type of interactive program will engage students in the democratic process and help secure a smooth transition into an adult voting routine. A Kids Voting program in Ohio offered this type of voting in their high schools last year and had 6,000 students cast an electronic ballot.
Kids Voting Wake County primarily receives its support from the corporate community. The principal sponsor is Capitol Broadcasting Company (WRAL). Our organization is currently at the end of a board member campaign, and for the first time in six years, has received support from 100% of our board members. In the past, the program has received grants for special projects from the Civic Education Consortium, Learn and Serve of America, the Triangle Community Foundation, the Seby B. Jones Family Foundation and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. We are also nearing the end of a three-year commitment from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. The Wake County Kids Voting program also receives support from individuals in the community. Over the next few years, our organization would like to concentrate on growing this area of support. We have made plans to hold a special fund development session for our Board of Directors to address the increasing need to diversify our funding base and ways to expand this area. We have secured the services of an outside facilitator to lead this meeting. Kids Voting is aware it will take the dedication of the entire board and staff to make this type of diversification happen. In the United States today, less than half of 18- and 19-year-olds are registered to vote; at best, one-in five will vote by the age of 21. More than half of our country’s children still live in a household where no adult votes. Even though, voter turnout in our country increased during last year’s Presidential Election, from a startling 36.4 percent in 1998 and 49.1 percent in 1996, we still have a long way to go. KV Wake has had a successful five years at the polls and with the ongoing dedication of the Board of Directors, staff and community volunteers, the program will continue to successfully fight voter apathy in Wake County. Please join Kids Voting in building better voters one student at a time, by supporting the organization and its work in Wake County. Yours for the future of democracy,
Kevin Cain, Chair Christine Craig
2001 Kids Voting Board of Directors Executive Director