Payson Teens Take Kids Voting To 'Net

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Sometimes, the best new ideas spring from two old but popular ideas melded together.

Like the clock-radio. The massaging toothbrush. Velcro-laced shoes.

Colin Cory, 18, and Brian Haddad, 17, have revolutionized that concept with a new twist.

These two Payson teenagers have taken one thing most young people love computers and plugged it into something that many of them view with abject indifference.

Politics.

In conjunction with the Northern Gila County chapter of the Kids Voting Arizona program, which gives young people a chance to participate in America's democratic process by voting in the Tuesday, Nov. 7th general election, Cory and Haddad have taken the presidential race online.

At their Web site http://rimvolunteers.tripod.com/decision, Payson High School students can not only vote for the candidate of their choice, but also explain the reasons for their vote an opportunity not afforded of-age voters.

The basic idea, Haddad said, actually came from Kaye Blankenbuehler, the area administrator for Kids Voting Arizona.

Cory, who graduated from Payson High last year, has been designing Web pages for several years now. While Haddad was a relative newcomer to the electronic art form, he was not brand-new to politics.

"I've got a lot of teachers who like to make sure we're up-to-date on national politics ... So I was definitely following politics ... whether voluntarily or not, it's hard to say," he said.

The two teens split up the Web page-construction chores, with Haddad designing the look of the site and Cory implementing the behind-the-scenes programming that allows PHS visitors to vote for their presidential choice, register as male or female, include their student identification number, which prevents repeat voting, and add their comments.

"I looked at this as a chance to say that, even though kids aren't old enough to vote, they should," Haddad said. "Especially in this election, because both (Vice President Al Gore and George W. Bush) look like clowns on television. I think it's important for kids to know that, even if it's a tough choice, they need to get out, do the research, and vote."

At last count, about 229 students had voted online, and the Web site had racked up 484 visitors.

"So there was not only a lot of voting, but people were checking out links and going to different sites to research candidates," Haddad said.

At election's end, Haddad said, the Web site will stay up for a while.

"What I think we'll do after counting all the votes is to put the results up along with some statistics of male versus female voters, as well as some of the best reasons the voters chose their candidates."

All told, he said, "The reaction so far is definitely reassuring. This has been a real feel-good thing."

And so is Kids Voting, he said.

"It's a good program for getting kids interactive with politics. It's like warming them up instead of throwing them into the fire. It's good to get kids prepared for the decisions they'll have to make later on."

Kids "need to be involved"

Kids Voting USA is a nonprofit, non-partisan, grassroots organization working with schools to enhance civics education and provide young people with a voting experience at official polls on election day.

The national program began in the Grand Canyon State after three Arizona businessmen returned from a 1988 fishing trip in Costa Rica, where voter turnout is about 80 percent. Costa Ricans, they discovered, attribute their high voter turnout to their tradition of children accompanying their parents to the polls.

Today, the Kids Voting USA network of state organizations reaches 5 million students, 200,000 teachers, 6,000 schools, 80,000 volunteers and 20,000 voter precincts.

Thanks to the Kids Voting Arizona program, Rim country students have for the past several months been involved in classroom activities revolving around the election, the candidates, issues, citizenship, and discussions on why voting is an important habit to develop.

It was a dire lack of such a habit in adults, in fact, that motivated Payson resident Kaye Blankenbuehler, Northern Gila County's Kids Voting administrator, to become involved in the program.

"I've always thought (voting) was important," she said. "That's why it saddens me to see that less than 50 percent of registered voters bother to vote. I think we need to make voting a habit for young kids, because we'll be turning the country over to them. They need to be involved."

A primary key to that involvement, Blankenbuehler added, is parental support. She urges moms and dads to teach their children the importance of voting, discuss the candidates and issues with them, watch a news program together, listen to their evaluations and opinions, and have their offspring accompany them to the polls so they may cast their vote.

Kids Voting ballots will be available at all Northern Gila County precincts. Whether participating during "volunteer-assisted hours" or "self-voting hours," all students must supply the information requested on the sign-in sheet.

For those students participating in "self voting," instructions will be on the Kids Voting table. Any student in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

Kids Voting Schedule

Payson Precinct 3 First Southern Baptist Church

Self-voting: 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Assisted voting: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Payson Precincts 1,2,4,5,6,7 and 8

Self-voting: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Assisted voting: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Pine-Strawberry First Baptist Church of Pine

Self-voting: Not available

Assisted voting: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Star Valley Star Valley Baptist Church

Self-voting: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Assisted voting: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Tonto Basin Tonto Basin School

Self-voting: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Assisted voting: 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Whispering Pines Fire Station

Self-voting: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Assisted voting: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Young Young Public Library

Self-voting: Not available

Assisted voting: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Gisela Gisela Community Church

Self-voting: 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Assisted voting: 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Zane Grey R-Bar-C Boy Scout Ranch

Self-voting: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Assisted voting: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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