Children are our greatest gift. To our lives they bring joy and wonder,
curiosity and excitement, hope and anticipation. As a mother I know this is
true. As an elected official, one charged with overseeing the election process,
I have wondered how different our political process might be if a little of that
spirit of child could be reintroduced into the process.
Doing so would be no easy task as these children grow up to become
non-voters. Nationally, only 48.8 percent of 18 - 24 year olds registered to
vote in 1996. Of that 48.8 percent, only 32.4 percent actually voted. And,
unfortunately, the statistics for Vermont are worse. In 1996, only 39 percent of
18 -24 year old Vermonters were registered to vote and only 26.2 percent
Who is to blame? We all are. The National Association of Secretaries of State
recently released the results of the New Millennium Project: American Youth
Attitudes on Politics, Citizenship, Government and Voting. Among the top reasons
young people cited for not voting were parents who did not vote or did not
discuss voting with their children; schools no longer teaching importance of
civic participation, especially voting; and, lack of understanding how the
actual process of casting a ballot works.
While we generally agree that voting is an important civic duty, it can get
lost in our daily lives. Parents may find it difficult to find time to discuss
politics with their children and when they do, it can be challenging to be
positive in a climate of political cynicism. Teachers, overwhelmed with demands
on their class time may find it difficult to find time to discuss the
responsibility of voting. Young people often see the media portraying politics
and public life in a negative light. Elected officials can forget that reaching
out to young people and encouraging responsible citizenship is part of their
The problem is complex but the stakes are too great not to give the next
generation our full attention.
What can we do to make a difference? Parents, educators, business leaders,
the media and public officials must work together to instill a sense of civic
responsibility in our youth. To that end I have helped start a new program for
Vermont called Kids Voting Vermont.
Kids Voting Vermont is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that will
train a new generation of Vermont’s citizens in the value of voting, and
will help increase voter turnout on Election Day. In this program, students
kindergarten through high school participate in a curriculum about the election
process and then cast their ballots along side adults on election day. The
program teaches students the value of voting and how their vote empowers them,
gives them practical skills of information gathering and decision making and
gives them hands on experience at the polls on Election Day.
Judging by the early response to this program, I am confident Kids Voting
will make a difference in our state. Leaders from across the state are serving
on our Board of Directors, which includes members of the business community,
educators, students, members of the media, activists, parents and city and town
clerks. Schools in St. Albans and Montpelier are piloting the program for the
March 7, 2000 Presidential Primary Election.
This program can make a difference over night. Implemented in 40 other
states, communities using the Kids Voting program saw adult voter turnout
increase five to ten percent over communities that did not use the program. And
while increasing adult voter turnout is a bonus, it is the possibility of
creating an active and engaged electorate that makes this program an investment
in generations to come.
If we can make Kids Voting Vermont work, then our children will have the
chance to instill a sense of excitement and hope that is missing from our
system. Together citizens, young and old, can create a democracy that will not
only survive, but thrive. That is our greatest gift to the next generation, and
generations to come.
For more information on Kids Voting Vermont, contact Carolyn Dwyer at