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KIDS VOTING NEW YORK EXPECTS HUGE RESPONSE

Voters under 18 are expected to turn out in droves here on Election Day -- thanks to Kids Voting New York.

More than 60,000 local elementary and high school students voted in their own election last year as part of the nonpartisan Kids Voting program dedicated to educating America's youth about the importance of voting.

They voted, on separate ballots, at their parents' polling places -- and they brought their parents with them.

"A survey showed that we minimally increased adult voting by 6 percent," said Anne Leary, executive director of Kids Voting New York.

The study, done after last year's election by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunications at Arizona State University, proved a Kids Voting point: If children are informed enough to want to vote, their parents will follow suit.

"Last year was a presidential election, and this year is a local election," Mrs. Leary noted. "Local elections traditionally bring a lower voter turnout. We're hoping Kids Voting will be the first step in changing that."

Kids Voting New York, started here by The Buffalo News, is the only arm of the national Kids Voting USA in the state. It is administered through schools in Erie and Niagara counties.

"This year, we're the largest Kids Voting project in the country doing local elections," Mrs. Leary noted.

"We have 70 ballots in Erie County -- with the kids voting on everything from sheriff, their legislators, supervisors and council members. We have 43 ballots in Niagara County."

This year, as an added attraction, students participating in the Kids Voting program also will vote on three issues of their own:

Whether school uniforms should be mandatory, whether a high school diploma should be required for a driver's license and whether there should be a New York State Constitutional Convention.

"Teachers used a local curriculum created for us by Kids Voting USA," Mrs. Leary said. "It explains how local government works and what each elected official does, what the qualifications for elected officials are and what their roles should be."

The program has expanded from about 100,000 student participants last year to 180,000 this year and a jump in the number of school districts taking part from 14 to more than 30.

Mrs. Leary said adult volunteers are still needed in these school districts -- Grand Island, Sweet Home, Cheektowaga Central, Cleveland Hill, Lackawanna, Clarence and Buffalo's Fillmore and Delaware districts.

Anyone interested in helping out at an official polling place may contact the Kids Voting New York hot line -- 849-4048.

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