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Kids Voting, an American voter education program for school-age children, was established in Arizona in 1988 and has expanded to more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. Marilyn Evans, the first president and CEO of Kids Voting Arizona and Kids Voting USA, and now an academic associate at ASU, will serve as the on-site leader in Prishtina, Kosovo. In addition to her experience with Kids Voting, Evans has developed and implemented democracy and governance projects in five other countries: Armenia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Yemen.
The goal of the Kids Voting in Kosovo project “will be to engage young people in reasoned debate and simulated election voting,” says ASU Professor Stephen Batalden, a Balkan specialist and director of the Melikian Center in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Batalden is the principal investigator on the grant.
The Kids Voting model addresses the international issue of building civil society through meaningful citizen participation in the electoral process, Batalden says. “By design, the program motivates current and future generations to become dedicated citizens by engagement in the voting process. Consistently, across Kids Voting projects, adult voting participation increases, stimulated by their children's participation in the Kids Voting experience,” he says.
ASU’s Melikian Center will develop the curriculum, train teachers, and oversee the development of Kids Voting in Kosovo, working with their local partner – KIPRED – a Kosovar NGO with a broad range of democratic project experience.
“Educators and elections officials are central for project success, utilizing interactive curriculum lessons to prepare students as competent decision-makers about issues and candidates,” Batalden notes.
The curriculum will include homework assignments, purposely stimulating discussion among students and their parents about key community and national challenges. On election days, students will accompany their parents to voting centers and cast their own unofficial ballots. The student ballot, which includes all the official candidate races and issues, is tabulated after the polls close and results are given immediately to the news media.
In the past, comparisons of student ballot results with official voter results are intriguing; "next generation voters" often voice divergent perspectives from current citizen voters, Batalden says.
The Kosovo project's objectives include increasing voter turnout, which fell to only 46 percent of eligible voters in last year’s parliamentary elections, and assuring that minority populations are well represented as voters. The pilot project will support upcoming local elections in school programs to be launched in Gjilan and areas of Prishtina, Kosovo's capital. Gjilan, with 130,000 inhabitants, specifically was chosen due to its large concentration of minority Serbian population, Batalden says.
“Given the importance of the democratization process under way in southeastern Europe and, especially, in Kosovo, this pilot project will provide unique opportunities for middle school and high school students to be drawn into the important election process. It is a very exciting and timely project indeed,” Batalden says.
The Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies is a comprehensive international research and training center that has both instructional and research missions. The Kids Voting in Kosovo project builds off a series of significant the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) projects undertaken by the Melikian Center in Kosovo since 2001.
Most recently, the center received grant support from the Citizens’ Exchange Bureau of the State Department to facilitate a dialogue between Muslin and Christian leaders from southeastern Europe and Arizona. This past January, Bosnian Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders participated in a three-week seminar in Arizona as part of the exchange.
Another project was an educational partnership for the development of business management and public administration curricula within the University of Pristina. Funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the State Department, that project brought young faculty members from the University of Pristina to ASU.
One of the outcomes of the work with business administration at the University of Pristina led to another partnership project that involves the transformation of accountancy training at the Kosovo university.