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Op-Ed: In Region with Low Voter Turnout, Kids Voting is a Good Civics Lesson

Like other parents in the area, whenever my wife and I vote, we usually bring our kids along for the ride. We believe it is the responsibility of every citizen to vote, and we want to pass that on to our kids. We want them to see us talking about it and participating. We want them to be “in the habit” of being a good citizen. 

A terrific program that our family has enjoyed being a part of is Kids Voting. It enables our kids to cast a mock ballot at the same polling place so that they get the experience of voting.  

Kids Voting USA is a non-profit, non-partisan, national organization working with schools and communities to encourage civics education and provide youth an authentic voting experience.  

The Northern Kentucky chapter of Kids Voting had its annual awards luncheon last week and I was reminded what a terrific program it is.  

They recognized High School “Future Civic Leaders”, as well as the Boone, Kenton, and Campbell County Libraries for their leadership roles.

During the luncheon I spoke with Kids Voting board member Carri Chandler of Toyota. If you’ve ever met Carri, you know that she has a passion for improving the community, and Kids Voting is one of her favorite projects. I was shocked to learn that she’s been on the Kids Voting Board for 16 years – she must have joined the board while in grade school! #justsayin

According to Carri, Kids Voting Northern Kentucky first began in 1999 serving Kenton County, then expanded to include Campbell and Boone Counties.

Each November in election years, Kids Voting mobilizes hundreds of volunteers and serves approximately 8,000-10,000 area youth when they cast a local mock ballot. Kids Voting operates with no paid staff! 

This is the only program of its kind enabling students to visit official polling sites on Election Day, and cast a ballot similar in content to the official ballot.  

“We also partner with teachers in Boone, Campbell, and Kenton Counties who use the Kids Voting curriculum to teach civic engagement to the next generation of voters.” said Chandler.

In my opinion, programs like this are even more valuable in communities like ours, where we continue to see a lack of civic engagement.  

According to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office, less than half of us voted in the last statewide election (45.9%).  

Even more disturbing, only 28.6% of those in the 25-34 age bracket voted, and only 21.9% of those under the age of 24 voted.  

The numbers are much worse for primary elections, where only 26.8% of us participated last time. That’s right, only 1 in 4 of us voted in the last primary! In some districts, the numbers are worse.

But lack of voting isn’t the only problem. We also need informed voters. Nationwide, only 38% of Americans surveyed could name all three branches of government. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a third of Americans can’t even name one branch of the government.

Judge Karen Thomas, who received Kids Voting’s top honor this year, the Civic Leadership Award, cited similar research that noted “twice as many could name a judge on the hit television show American Idol.

Judge Thomas, who is the Chief Regional District Judge for Northern Kentucky, volunteers her time to preside over the Northern Kentucky Teen Court. She is also a founding member of the National Association of Youth Courts. During her remarks on Wednesday, she shared her concerns about the lack of community engagement, and identified programs like Kids Voting as another way to help improve the situation.

Judge Thomas’s leadership in Northern Kentucky Teen Court is an example for the rest of us.  

She is educating and engaging students in the judicial process. We should all follow her lead, and find ways to help teach kids about how our government works.

I’m grateful for programs like Kids Voting and I hope you will join me in thanking those involved.  

Now go out to the polls on May 19! Be a part of the process and vote early and often!

Brent Cooper is the president of C-Forward, an IT firm in Covington.