Encourage election excitement in 2004

Engage your kids in the Democratic (and Republican) process


Paige Hobey


Quick, who would make the best president: Shrek, Harry Potter or the Cat in the Hat? While this isn't your typical political debate, it's the kind of uniquely provocative question that can engender election enthusiasm among the school-age set.

In fact, Washington, D.C., dad Ken Hakuta includes this kid-focused presidential conundrum on his nonprofit Web site, www.kidsvote2004.com. 

Hakuta launched the site in March to draw future voters into the political process. His ultimate goal? To have at least 20,000 parents sign his Adopt-a-Vote contract committing to discuss the issues and presidential candidates around the dinner table and-here's the clincher-cast their votes on Nov. 2 according to their children's preference.

That's right, let your kids decide your vote. While this may be a scary prospect for many parents, it offers a compelling challenge: How far would you go to engage your children in the democratic process?  

Voter turnout among eligible adults dropped from 63 percent in 1960 to 51 percent in 2000, according to the Federal Election Commission. And young adults are the least likely demographic to be registered to vote or turn out on election day. As parents, we can help replace this apathy with activism. How to nurture your own pint-sized politico? 

• Make politics personal. Hakuta recommends discussing issues that affect your children directly, such as the legality of music downloading, school safety or funding for local park district programming. Even younger children can be informed using simple explanations. "Engage kids at a level they can understand," suggests politically active Chicago mom Tracy Egan.

• Create a family tradition of social activism. Volunteer together. Write a family letter to your congressperson. Participate in a rally. Evanston mother Amanda Hanley brought her 7-year-old son to the Million Mom March in 2003. "I wanted Thomas to know he could help make a difference," Hanley explains.  

• Make the 2004 election a family affair. Discuss the debates and political ads, Egan suggests. Participate together in a voter registration drive. Check out kid-friendly, nonpartisan Web sites such as www.kidsvote2004.com, www.rockthevote.org and www.kidsandpolitics.org. Hanley even took her son to the New Trier Democratic office to watch the primary election returns. 

• Bring your kids to the polls on Nov. 2. Yes, this is legal. And, according to the Take Your Kids to Vote campaign, it's an effective strategy for inspiring a lifetime voting tradition. Children love being included, Egan points out, and they always learn from seeing the democratic process firsthand.


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