At 16, Colin Sullivan's vote may not count in the official presidential race on Nov. 4, but it does matter.
Through the Kids Voting program Sullivan will be able to go to the polls and cast his ballot. For Kids Voting organizers the effort is to reach young people and get them to the polls in the hope they will continue to vote as adults when their choices will be counted. Kids Voting, which includes kindergartners to high school seniors, gives students a separate ballot with the same candidates their older counterparts will consider along with ballot questions of their own. Consider it preparing the voter of the future or an ice breaker for civic responsibility in a democracy.
Sullivan, who is co-captain of the Students for Political Awareness at Brainerd High School, said the issues students talk about are the same ones older voters are discussing - the war in Iraq, the environment/climate change and the economy. Teenagers are getting much more involved than ever before, Sullivan said. About 15 students attend the Students for Political Awareness meetings at 7:45 a.m. Thursdays at the high school. Sullivan said they hope to expand that number. Teenagers have a lot more to say than many people may think, Sullivan said. And he said Kids Voting is a way to get young people more involved and able to make an educated choice.
"I've always been very interested in politics," he said. "I wanted to get involved because I wanted to make sure people in office had our best interests in mind."
Sullivan said being involved as an informed voter is important "because we are the ones who are going to be making these decisions in the future. It affects our lives so we're taking an interest. Once you get involved early, you understand the importance of your vote."
Kids Voting is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization aimed at educating and engaging students from kindergarten through the senior year in high school. The organization provides civic leadership curriculum to teachers. And Kids Voting encourages parents to take their children to the polls with them on Election Day so they can share in the experience of participating in democracy by voting for the candidate of their choice. The goal is to establish an early experience that leads to a lifelong commitment to vote once the student becomes an adult.
Kids Voting began in the Brainerd lakes area in 1996. The organization traces its roots to three Arizona businessmen who were inspired by a 1988 fishing trip to Costa Rica where children went with their parents to polls. Kids Voting reports Costa Rica has a typical voter turnout of 90 percent. That fishing trip led to a school-based pilot project which expanded into an effort that involves about 29 states and Washington, D.C.
More information about the program is available online at kidsvotingUSA.org. Kids Voting lists two goals - educating the students about the rights and responsibilities of voting and to increase adult voter turnout culminating on Election Day as students go with their parents to the polls. The program welcomes volunteers who are willing to encourage young people to participate.
"I think it's just so important," Sullivan said.
Brett Gross, Kids Voting committee member and civics teacher at Brainerd High School South Campus, said it's important for students to look at voter's guides and information so they are informed about candidates before they vote leading to a habit they will hopefully continue as adults.
"I think the most important part of the program is the fact that it gets students comfortable going to the polls," Gross said. "This then hopefully translates to them going to the polls as adults with no fear. They get to see that the polling site is a safe, friendly atmosphere for citizens to exercise their right to vote."
Sullivan said it may sound clich but voting is important for everyone and when people have a passion and are informed on the issues "you can really make a difference."
Election Day is Nov. 4.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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