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HISTORY LESSON WITH CHARACTER; ACTORS STRESS VOTING TO SCHOOLCHILDREN.

Byline: Angela Randazzo Daily News Staff Writer

Remarkably spry for being over 200 years old, Benjamin Franklin explained the importance of the right to vote to more than 350 elementary and middle school students Wednesday.

``We, the people, are at the helm and it's up to us to sail the good ship of state toward freedom and liberty,'' he said.

Joined by Abraham Lincoln, Abigail Adams, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other historical luminaries, the characters were part of a special program, ``Your Vote Counts,'' held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Wednesday.

The idea was to help students understand the voting process and why it's important to vote.

``We're having fun with the whole process and hopefully the kids will encourage their parents to vote,'' said Mark Burson, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

Students from fourth to eighth grade got a brief overview of the history of voting from Benjamin Franklin, portrayed by Gene Collins of ``Living Legends,'' and his troupe of historical impersonators.

Following the show, the students voted on three items selected from the November ballot. The students voted for governor, U.S. senator and Proposition 8, which deals with public schools. The results of the mock vote were not released Wednesday.

``It's important to vote so that you can have a say of what goes on in our country and to select officials we trust,'' said Chris Tucker, 13, a Hillside Middle School student.

Nine schools participated in the event, including three schools in Ventura County - Hillside Middle School, Westlake Hills Elementary and St. John's Lutheran School in Oxnard. A similar ``Your Vote Counts'' show was hosted by the Reagan library in 1996 and both events were sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

``Fresh Chances for American,'' a song and dance troupe of 5- to 14-year-olds from Ventura and Los Angeles counties, began the show with a patriotic medley. Then ``Living Legends'' presented a 35-minute play written by Collins on the evolution of voting. The presentation traced voting from the caveman, wielding a club to get votes, to the colonists, who strove to improve their political situation. While the Founding Fathers championed voting privileges for some, others were denied the same right.

Taking center stage, Abigail Adams, played by Judith Helton, implored her husband, John Adams, to ``remember the ladies who, by law, have no voice.'' Abraham Lincoln, played by Charles Brame, eloquently spoke of breaking the bond of slavery and making certain former slaves received the right to vote. In the end, Ben Franklin had the last word.

``Vote. It's your right, it's your privilege,'' he said.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1--Color) Judith Helton, standing, plays Abigail Adams during a presentation on voting Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

(2--Color) (Ran in Conejo Edition only) Students from Lankershim Elementary receive mock ballots during Wednesday's event.

David Sprague/Daily News
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 22, 1998
Words:487
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