In most years, September is the month when the election season starts to warm up as the weather begins to cool. That makes it a good time to reflect on our civic duties as citizens.
In many ways, Kentucky does quite well in this regard. We exceeded the national average in voting registration and voter turnout in 2010, for example, continuing a trend that dates back to the late 1990s. Before then, we traditionally trailed the country when voting in mid-term elections.
We also get high marks when it comes to close ties to family and friends. Consider a 2011 survey of our civic health done by the Secretary of State; the National Conference on Citizenship; and several other interested groups across Kentucky. It found that, in 2010, only two states had a higher percentage of households that sit down together at least several times a week for dinner. We’re hovering around the national average, meanwhile, when it comes to talking with our neighbors and doing favors for them.
When we move beyond those close social circles, however, our rankings begin to decline. We’re among the bottom states for volunteering, with only about one in four citizens taking part, and in charitable giving of $25 or more.
There are also unfortunate pockets of social isolation. A fourth of Kentucky’s elderly reports having no social connections, which is well above the national average of 17 percent. Education appears to be key, because those with college degrees across the state report far less social isolation than those without one. In fact, that group is well below the already low national average.
Kentucky is lucky because it has several organizations dedicated to boosting our civic education. In addition to outreach efforts by the Secretary of State, there are ongoing programs offered by Northern Kentucky University, the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University.
The General Assembly is also heavily involved in promoting civic education. This year, beginning on Sept. 17th, many of my legislative colleagues and I will again kick off the “America’s Legislators Back to School Program,” which began in 1999 as a one-day activity but now runs for much of the school year. More than 1,400 state legislators participate annually, and over the last dozen years they have addressed more than two million students across the country. Kentucky is often among the top 10 states in participation.
The need for improving civic education is definitely there. Last year, a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that only a third of Americans could name all three branches of government, while another third could not name any.
Kentucky has a lot going for it when it comes to civic pride. When the need is there – and we have seen that repeatedly in recent years in the wake of several major storms – we step up to help out. The goal is to see how we can build on that in years ahead, to reach out to those who help make our communities what they are.
For now, I encourage you to vote in November. If you have not registered but would like to, the deadline is Oct. 9th. The county clerk’s office has more information, or you can learn more online at http://www.sos.ky.gov/elections/. It’s worth noting that, in an effort to help our youngest voters, the General Assembly passed a law last year that calls on high schools to provide seniors with information on voting procedures.
If you have any questions about any of these issues – or are a teacher who would like to take part in the Back to School program – please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.