Getting out the vote, one child at a time

By all indications, voter turnout at local polling places is strong this presidential election year, and that includes a voting bloc candidates sometimes dismiss — the pre-school set.

Anne Raybon, executive director of Kids Voting Buncombe County, couldn’t be happier. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization aims to teach young people the importance of voting, and participation is what it’s all about.

“We have a paper ballot and students will be able to vote on 15 races. The ballots have pictures of the candidates, and we’ve printed 15,000,” Raybon says. That’s enough for about half the school-aged population in the county, according to Raybon.

Now in it’s ninth year, the organization has volunteers working at all 15 early voting polling locations in Buncombe County. The group will have volunteers working at the polls on Election Day, as well. Raybon says she’ll have more than 45 high school students working as precinct captains at local polling places.

Any student, from the 4-year-old tot to the high school teenager, can cast a ballot. The votes will be tallied on Nov. 4 after the polls close, and Kids Voting will report the results.

The votes don’t count, of course, but that’s not the point.

“It’s important for kids to get involved. The earlier they start, the more likely they’re willing to make a difference in the world the live in when they grow up,” says Jolene Brookshire, an adult volunteer with Kids Voting who will be working the St. Mark’s Lutheran Church polling place on Election Day.

Sharon Pitts, a retired kindergarten teacher in Buncombe County Schools and another volunteer, agrees.

“I just feel it’s very important that we create generations of young people who will grow up to vote.” Pitts says. “To me, the basis of democracy is public education. As a black person, historically we’ve been denied the right to vote, so I feel strongly that we must exercise that right,” she says, adding that getting children interested might help engage some disinterested parents.

Aside from providing the experience of casting a ballot, Kids Voting also provides instructional materials in classrooms to help with civics lessons. Students explore what it means to have the right to vote, democracy and citizenship, Raybon says.

Kids Voting still needs volunteers to work polling places and count ballots on election night. Anyone interested should call Raybon at 713-6987 or send an e-mail to info@kidsvotingbc.org.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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