Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Citizen Next campaign targets kids

The Democracy Project Pledge cards, video contest

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Of all the things voting is -- a right, a civic duty -- rarely has it been cited as fun for the whole family.

This time around, that could be changing. With the countdown to the Oct. 4 election now underway, Elections Manitoba is launching a new campaign geared at getting more families and teens comfortable with the ballot box.

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"Our surveys indicate that children who grow up in families that participate in voting and discuss it with dinner-table talk, those (kids) are more likely to vote in the future," said Elections Manitoba operations manager Mary Skanderbeg.

"We thought, if we could find a way to engage people early, then perhaps some of that will filter unconsciously to their voting age and encourage them to participate."

Elections Manitoba began looking at the issue of voter engagement about a year ago. After surveys found many Manitoba parents cited a lack of child care as one of the reasons they stayed home from the polls, the mission seemed clear: find a way to extend a warm electoral welcome to families.

The end result is Citizen Next, a campaign that aims to capture the imagination of children -- and maybe convince their parents or older siblings to fill out a ballot, too.

Though children have always been permitted in polling stations, some parents might not have realized it was OK to bring the brood, Skanderbeg said. This time around, there will be no doubt: Families can sign up on the campaign's website, CitizenNext.ca, to get their voters-in-training a "future voter pledge card."

If the pint-sized pundits come to the polls, they'll get a jaunty "future voter" sticker they can affix proudly on their pledge card -- or wherever else they so desire. "We've been testing it on our own children, and it's been fun," Skanderdeg chuckled. "We're hoping that families will see it as fun, as well."

For older kids, the Citizen Next website also boasts a video contest featuring videos made by under-18s about why they plan to vote when they strike legal age. Viewers can vote themselves on which video reason they think is the best.

The website also features an election countdown, a crossword challenge and a passel of other games and tidbits for would-be voters of all ages. Voters who are of age can also sign up to get a text-message reminder on election day so they don't forget to have their say.

Because Citizen Next isn't just a way to get the next generation to start thinking about voting, Elections Manitoba hopes the inspiration might be a two-way street.

"If it increases voter participation this time, by Johnny at home saying 'Come on Mommy, I want to get my sticker,' we'll be happy," Skanderbeg said.

"We'll be putting some of this information in schools in September, so hopefully (kids will) take it home and mom and dad will buy into it."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2011 A2

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