When visiting Costa Rica, a group of U.S. businessmen learned that voter turnout in Costa Rican elections was typically in the 80 percent range. On investigation, they found that there was a two-pronged program that contributed to this result: curriculum in the schools and a parallel voting process for students and their parents. On their return to the United States, the businessmen found that there was a great interest in developing a similar two-pronged program here, and they started Kids Voting USA, a national, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization.
The national Kids Voting USA organization was promoted and strongly supported by the Gannett Newspaper, and in Central Wisconsin by Mike Scobey, the then-publisher of the Wausau Daily Herald. He found a receptive audience in our area, and the Kids Voting USA – Wisconsin/Marathon County affiliate organization was formed in 1996. Dick Allen became the first Executive Director, and he continues to serve as a guiding voice to the local affiliate organization as a board member today.
Kids Voting USA – Wisconsin/Marathon County provided the nationally-developed K-12 Kids Voting USA curriculum to local educators, which curriculum offered complete lesson plans to incorporate into classroom instruction in preparation for upcoming elections. Kids Voting USA – Wisconsin/Marathon County also established a parallel voting process for local K-12 students and their parents, located at all 42 voting locations in Marathon County. The parallel voting process provides ballots and ballot booths specifically designed for students to vote alongside their parents.
As the attraction of the parallel voting process diminished and the prevalence of internet access in local schools improved, Kids Voting USA – Wisconsin/Marathon County converted some of the schools pin the election to an online voting process. As a result, the overall voter turnout in the election increased substantially. Prior to the utilization of online voting, approximately 10,000 students voted in the elections. By contrast, approximately 20,000 students voted in the 2012 election.
In 2013, Kids Voting USA – Wisconsin/Marathon County developed and conducted a mock political convention for local high school students, modeled after the party conventions that occur in conjunction with the presidential election. The mock political convention features the opportunity for the students to serve as delegates and candidates, create and advocate party platforms, and campaign for office. The first mock convention was very successful, and the students expressed great interest in the opportunity to participate in future mock conventions. In response, Kids Voting USA -Wisconsin/Marathon County will host mock conventions in each presidential and gubernatorial election year.
From its inception, Kids Voting USA – Wisconsin/Marathon County received strong support from the local community, and the community continues to be supportive. Several years ago, a study conducted by the national Kids Voting USA organization found that students who participated in Kids Voting USA programming were more likely to have become active participants in the election processes. Kids Voting USA – Wisconsin/Marathon County is proud of our role in providing a nonpartisan educational experience resulting in increased voter awareness and participation.