With the 2016 presidential election expected to be one of the most historic, Indiana legal professionals are heading into Hoosier schools to teach students about one of the most fundamental of all American rights — informed voting.
Through the Indiana Kids’ Election Speakers’ Bureau, hundreds of attorneys, judges, paralegals and law students from across the state have volunteered to teach elementary, middle and high school students about the election process, and there are still spots open for other interested legal professionals.
The Indiana Kids’ Election, or IKE, began as a way to help Indiana schools meet the state-mandated curriculum requirement for all students to learn about elections two weeks before the general election, said Carissa Long, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Bar Association, which is sponsoring IKE in partnership with the Indiana Department of Education and the Secretary of State’s office.
So far this year, more than 1,100 schools in 89 counties have signed up for IKE, giving them access to specially designed curriculum and lesson plans about the electoral process, including registering to vote, researching candidates and going to the polls, Long said.
Through the Speakers’ Bureau program, Indiana legal professionals bring the election process into the classroom through interactive presentations and games designed to pique students’ interest in a process usually reserved for adults.
“I really love the concept of getting kids interested in the election,” said Jason Reyome, a Marion Superior Court Civil Division magistrate judge and Speakers’ Bureau volunteer. “Hopefully this makes the election more relevant for students and helps them into the habit of voting at an early age.”
Reyome is one of roughly 300 Indiana attorneys, judges and other legal professionals volunteering for at least one presentation in an Indiana school.
“That’s a huge response for us,” Long said.
As an Indianapolis resident, Reyome said he opted in for two presentations in his neighborhood – one at the Immaculate Heart of Mary, where he is also a parishioner, and one at Indianapolis Public Schools Center for Inquiry II School 84, where his son is a student.
Like Reyome, many volunteers have offered to speak at multiple schools, a gesture that Long said is making it easier to match the roughly 300 speakers with the roughly 750 schools that have signed up for the Speakers’ Bureau program.
Andrew Hicks, a partner at Warrick & Boyn LLP in Elkhart, volunteered to speak in Elkhart Community Schools and at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School in Elkhart. At his firm, five of the nine attorneys have volunteered to speak at a local school, Hicks said.
The 2016 election — and the presidential election in particular — has been marked by heated arguments between candidates and their supporters, and Hicks said he wanted to take the opportunity to teach students that there is more to running for office than what they might see on TV.
“I have children of my own, and I think that with this election, this is a good way to teach kids that it’s an election, not a reality show,” Hicks said.
Volunteer speakers have the option of customizing their presentations to fit their knowledge and personality, with topics ranging from basic electoral rules to running a campaign to information about specific races. Presentation options include an election-themed “Jeopardy!” game or more in-depth discussions of elections.
All of the volunteers are given materials to help them design and customize their presentations for different age groups, and Hicks said he participated in a one-hour training program.
Reyome plans to focus more generally on how elections work and what it takes to run a campaign, but if the students he speaks with become interested in a specific topic, he’ll be prepared to discuss that topic more extensively.
Hicks also said he wants to focus on general election procedures, including fact-checking candidates’ platforms and arguments, but he thinks students likely will have questions about the presidential race.
“I’m sure this election will come up,” Hicks said. “It’s definitely one of the most exciting elections we’ve had in a long time.”
Although the national presidential race has eclipsed other races across the country, Hicks said he wants to use his time in the IKE Speakers’ Bureau to teach students that state and local elections are just as important.
The Elkhart attorney wants to explain the differences between municipal, county, state and federal government, and show students how the decisions made at those levels can affect their lives. From an attorney’s perspective, state and local government decisions often have a greater impact on their practices than federal decisions, he said.
“A lot of people are turned off by the presidential race,” Hicks said. “Even if that turns you off, that’s not a reason not to vote. There are other positions to vote for.”
Outside of the 2016 election cycle, Reyome hopes what he teaches students through the Speakers’ Bureau will stick with them when they have the opportunity to vote in the future.
“In our country, a 60 percent turnout is labeled ‘good’ for an election, and that’s sad,” Reyome said. “It always shocks me that so many people fail to exercise their right to vote. It seems that Indiana Kids’ Election could only positively impact voter turnout in our state.”
Volunteers in the Speakers’ Bureau will give their presentations throughout October and November, leading up to the culmination of the IKE program, a mock election Nov. 8.
As their parents, grandparents and other family members head to the polls that Tuesday, Hoosier students also will have the opportunity to cast their ballots for their preferred candidates based on the information they learned through the Speakers’ Bureau and other IKE curriculum.
Students who participate will get the complete voting experience, including voter registration forms and the much-loved “I Voted” stickers that voters receive as they are exiting the polls, Long said.
IKE is still accepting volunteers for the Speakers’ Bureau, Long said. Interested legal professionals can visit inkidselection.com and select the “For Lawyers” tab to sign up.
Volunteers can indicate their school preference when they sign up, and all speakers will likely be matched to a school by Oct. 1.•