Getting out that vote a decade or so early

October 30, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

He who has the most stickers wins. Or so it seemed Tuesday night at a campaign forum at Hall's Cross Roads Elementary School in Aberdeen.

Children raced around the school gym, collecting as many colorful stickers as they could from the 32 candidates who assembled to meet the students. But the grip-and-grin session had a serious purpose, too.

"It's a way for the kids to have contact with the candidates in a nonthreatening way," said Patricia L. Skebeck, Hall's Cross Roads principal. "We wanted it to be a fun night."

"When I walked in, I felt the excitement," said Republican Joanne S. Parrott, who's running for County Council president and spent the evening talking to the children.

During the 1 1/2 -hour program, a steady stream of students and parents visited the candidates' tables. Free balloons, pencils and campaign buttons were definite pluses.

Jeff Groleau, a Hall's Cross Roads fifth-grader, proudly showed off his collection of literature and doodads.

"He gave me a baseball card and signed it," Jeff said, pointing to Republican Mark S. Decker, a candidate for the District C council seat.

Amid the hoopla, the children asked questions of the candidates.

"What are you going to do about criminals? It [crime] doesn't seem to be getting any better," Gretchen Hammett, a Hall's Cross Roads fourth-grader, asked Democrat Del. Mary Louise Preis, who's seeking re-election in District 34.

Mrs. Preis told the 9-year-old that she would be tougher on young people who broke the law so they would "get a wake-up call right away."

Gretchen also asked the incumbent delegate about her views on welfare. "The questions just pop in my head," she explained afterward.

The candidates also didn't escape questioning by fifth-grader John Coulter, a reporter for the Hall's Cross Roads newsletter. "I'm asking them what they are running for, and 'If you get elected, what will you do for Harford County?' " he said.

"I'm pushing them to ask questions," said Brenda Hinton, a third-grade teacher at Hall's Cross Roads who was rounding up her students when she saw them in the crowd. "These [children] are our future. They are going to be voters . . . responsible voters."

"This is an exciting idea. It's the largest turnout of any forum I've been to," said Republican sheriff candidate Joseph P. Meadows. "It's indicative of what's going to happen at the polls. [Kids Voting] is great for the county."

Harford County is the pilot site in Maryland for Kids Voting, a national, nonprofit program that strives to instill lifelong voting habits in children and encourage parental voting. It culminates in students going to the polls Nov. 8.

Last week's program at Hall's Cross Roads, also sponsored by Roye-Williams Elementary and Aberdeen High School, was offered as part of the schools' Kids Voting curriculum. It was coordinated by enrichment teacher Joan Cable.

The evening also provided candidates with an opportunity to talk to adult voters.

"She was excited. I got home late from work and she said, 'You've got to hurry up,' " said Sylvia Biggs about her daughter, Shameca, a third-grader at Hall's Cross Roads. "It's a new experience for her and somewhat for me, too."

"He wasn't going to drop the ball. He got us here," said Eric Meisgeier, who was with his second-grade son, Jeffrey, and wife, Nobeila.

"They wanted to meet the candidates," said Army Sgt. David Wiley, dressed in fatigues and surrounded by his three children, who attend Roye-Williams Elementary.

Most of the students said they had made no firm decisions about which candidates would get their votes. "There are so many people. I'm going to read them [the campaign brochures] and use them. Decisions, decisions," said fourth-grader Yolanda Yasko.

The meeting was a learning experience for parents, too. "I'm being informed. . . . It makes you want to get right out and vote after you meet them [the candidates]," said Yvonne Phillips, who accompanied her first-grade daughter Anastasia. "It gives you a whole different outlook."

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