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KIDS VOTING -- AND ADULTS LISTENING

Should security officers be allowed to carry guns in school?

How about asking the students?

When 200 high school students took part in the second annual Kids Voting Student Leadership Forum and breakfast at the University at Buffalo Center for the Performing Arts Monday morning, most voted against the idea.

But that is just one issue on which the students are being heard. Thousands locally -- and more than 5 million nationwide -- are expected to cast ballots in this year's presidential election, said Charles T.G. Ambrus, director of Kids Voting Western New York.

Through this nonpartisan, nonprofit, grassroots-driven, voter-education program, students participate in a curriculum about the election process and then cast their ballots alongside their parents in local, state and national elections.

The voter-education project "aims at instilling both knowledge of and a taste for voting in schoolkids," explained Thomas Jacobson, a professor in UB's communication department. "The basic idea is simple and appealing: Kids who have been active in the political process as part of their elementary, middle and high schools' basic activities will be better prepared to assume their full civic responsibility as an adult."

With the voter turnout rate of 18-to-24-year-olds dropping to the lowest of any age group, organizers said Kids Voting Western New York provides a solution to this problem.

"There is nothing more important to our society than informed citizens exercising their right to vote," said Philip Rumore, Buffalo Teachers Federation president. "The unprecedented success of Kids Voting has, more than any other program I know of, made an important and far-reaching contribution to that vital goal."

Here's the teen take on other issues:

"Should women at age 18 be required to register with the Selective Service just as 18-year-old men are required to do?" Most kids said yes.

"Are schools' zero-tolerance policies regarding drugs and weapons unfair to students?" The students said no.

"Should schools be allowed to restrict what books are read in school?" The majority said no.

On Election Day, the students' ballots will be tabulated and reported, like the reporting of official results. And Kids Voting Western New York promises to have an impact on adult voter turnout here in the area; 30 percent of those surveyed in a study, cited Kids Voting Western New York as an important factor in their decision to vote, and 76 percent of voter-respondents with children in the program took the kids to the polls.

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