Byline: Dan Culloton Daily Herald Staff Writer
America is the world's most revered democracy, yet only 55 percent of its voting age citizens cast ballots in the last presidential election.
Meanwhile, citizens of countries with more oppressive histories, like South Africa, stand outside in long, winding lines for hours for the opportunity to vote.
Mounting frustration with the vitriol of political campaigns and money's influence in elections and governing have been blamed for apathy among American voters.
Now a national group that is taking root in Chicago, its suburbs and some downstate areas, says it can combat the nagging cynicism and ennui sapping the American electorate's enthusiasm like virus.
Kids Voting USA has arrived in Illinois saying it can groom grade and high school students to be prudent and active voters in the 21st century.
The organization that first formed in Tempe, Ariz. in 1988, will train teachers in 15 schools in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 and up to 60 schools in Chicago to deliver Kids Voting's lessons on voting and the democratic process.
Kids Voting also is talking with Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 about starting the program there.
From September until the Nov. 5 general election, instructors in District 15, Chicago and possibly District 211 will teach 4 to 12 hours of art projects, mock elections, debates, and research projects designed to introduce the tenets of democracy and the importance and value of participating in it.
Kids Voting will make the lessons available to all grade levels, though individual schools may differ in how and for whom they use it.
The key to the curriculum and its culminating event will be election day, when participating students will join their parents in voting booths to cast their own ballots on separate machines.
Their votes will not influence the election, but Kids Voting will tally students' ballots to give them a taste of the power of their votes.
Training children to vote seems like such a natural to Kids Voting supporters and organizers that they can't understand why no one thought of it earlier.
"If you believe in our political process, you've got to believe that we've got to teach our children about it," said Sheila Smith, a former Palatine resident who has run as a Democrat for Congress and for Illinois lieutenant governor.
"Nobody can dispute that we need to improve voter participation in this …