KUNM

These Fifth-Graders Think It's Really, Really Important That You Vote

Nov 7, 2016
Originally published on November 7, 2016 4:50 pm

It's been hard to find voices of hope this election season. People seem to feel they're choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Not E.J. Johnson: "This is mostly, one of the mostly, heart-racing thrilling things I've ever done!"

She isn't talking about voting, though, because she won't be able to do that for another eight years or so. E.J. is in fifth grade. Her enthusiasm is for getting out the vote at the University of Colorado, Boulder. It's the task at hand for her and a bunch of other fifth-grade students from the Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies.

In school, these kids have been learning about the power of voice in politics, like who could vote in early America.

"Only white men with property could vote," says fifth-grader Dale Boyer. "It was just crazy how unjust people were back then to people who were different from them. That was surprising to me."

Also surprising for a lot of these kids is just how long women had to fight for the vote.

"It's torture to know that so many people worked so hard to get that right to vote, and people aren't voting," says E.J. Johnson. "We shouldn't just throw it away like it's somebody's old garbage."

In class, they learned that less than half of college-age students voted in the last presidential election. That's the lowest voter turnout of any age group and part of the reason these students are here trying to get their message out.

Juliana Krigsman, another fifth-grader, says before studying these things she didn't realize that "our country was so not open-minded."

Or that law enforcement was so brutal in trying to deny voting rights to African-Americans, especially in the South, "that they would actually go to the extent to try to hurt them, to try to stop them physically," she says.

They all say voting is something really important for adults to do. But what about kids? Do they think kids should have the right to vote?

"I don't think kids should vote until they're at least 13," says Lila Newmark.

"Because they may not know so much about the candidates and it wouldn't be a very learned vote." Yes ... she's 10 years old.

As the march wraps up, the kids bring their hand-painted signs together to form a tunnel for the college students to walk through. Maybe that part won't get them to vote, but hopefully they'll get a smile out of it.

Copyright 2016 Colorado Public Radio. To see more, visit Colorado Public Radio.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We've heard a lot about election fatigue among voters - anxiety, too. Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio sought out people who are excited about the election, and she found them. Now, there is a catch. They can't vote. They are too young. So here's what they're doing instead.

(CROSSTALK)

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Backpacks, pigtails, freckles - this little brigade of fifth graders sticks out on the campus at the University of Colorado Boulder. They're here with their hand-painted signs to bring this message to college students.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Chanting) V-O-T-E, V-O-T-E, vote.

EJ JOHNSON: This is one of the - mostly one of the most thrilling, heart-racing things I've ever done.

BRUNDIN: That's EJ Johnson. She and her classmates go to the Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies, and if they hear what they want...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I am registered to vote.

BRUNDIN: ...The kids give props.

(CHEERING)

BRUNDIN: They've been learning about the power of voice in politics, like who could vote in early America. Here's Dale Boyer.

DALE BOYER: Only white men with property could vote. And it was just crazy how injust (ph) people were back then to people who are different from them. And that was surprising to me.

BRUNDIN: Also surprising - just how long women had to fight for the vote.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: For, like, 70 years.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: More than that - like, 300.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: No, not 300.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: No, not 300, but, like...

BRUNDIN: It was a long time probably.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Yeah.

BRUNDIN: These fifth graders seem pained at the thought that some people now don't vote. EJ Johnson...

EJ: It's torture to know that so many people worked so hard to get that right to vote and people aren't voting. We shouldn't just throw it away like it's somebody's old garbage.

BRUNDIN: In their research, they learned only less than half of college students voted in the last presidential election, the lowest voter turnout of any age group. Juliana Krigsman says before studying these things, she didn't realize.

JULIANA KRIGSMAN: That our country was so, like, not open-minded.

BRUNDIN: Or that law enforcement was so brutal in trying to deny voting rights to African-Americans, especially in the South.

JULIANA: They would actually go to the extent to try to, like, hurt them to try to stop them physically.

BRUNDIN: They all say that voting is a serious responsibility, maybe one that should be left up to grownups.

Do you think kids should be able to vote?

LILA NEWMARK: Like, well...

BRUNDIN: It's a hard one.

LILA: I don't think kids should vote until they're at least 13...

BRUNDIN: Lila Newmark.

LILA: ...Because they may not know so much about the candidates, and it wouldn't be a very learned vote.

BRUNDIN: I think if you know the word learned at age 10, you should be able to vote. As the march winds down, the kids huddle.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: I heard some college saying that not every vote counts, but it - every vote does count.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: That's not true. That's not true.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Chanting) Vote; vote; vote.

BRUNDIN: Then out of nowhere, they form a tunnel with their signs for the college students to walk through. If that doesn't make these older kids want to vote, I hope they at least got a smile out of it. For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin.

SHAPIRO: We are finally almost there. NPR and reporters from public radio stations across the country are going to be live tomorrow night. We will be going all night long, breaking down national and local election results. You can listen live right here and follow the races that are important to you at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.