Former state representative and gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman has a new idea to encourage voting in Oklahoma – a comic book directed at young people to explain the importance of civic responsibility.
This is Capitol Insider – taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I’m Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. The general election is behind us, and looking at the numbers, just 50% of registered voters in this state bothered to turn in a ballot. Low voter participation is not new, though, in Oklahoma, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: No, it’s really not. This year’s election saw about 50.35% of registered voters go to the polls. That was down from 56.15% in 2018. But if you look at presidential elections, the 2020 election actually saw an increase in participation at 69.34% versus 68.11% in 2016. That still puts Oklahoma nationally in the low forties in a ranking of all the states. And then there’s also another issue. Voter registration as a share of those eligible typically runs very low in Oklahoma as well – usually in the bottom ten.
Dick Pryor: So now a former state legislator and Democratic nominee for governor is doing something to educate another generation of voters about their civic responsibility and voting. Joe Dorman is chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and he joins us today. Joe, good to have you with us.
Joe Dorman: It’s a pleasure to join you, gentlemen.
Shawn Ashley: Joe, you are launching a new way to reach young people about the importance of voting through a comic book. How did you come up with that idea?
Joe Dorman: Well, I’ve collected comic books for years. My parents used comic books to help me learn to read. They would buy comic books for me at flea markets and garage sales, and I had a great interest in them. And superheroes, the colors, just the reading. Mom would sit and help me with that. And through the years, it turned into a hobby. And then working here at OICA, I had the idea to possibly try and come up with a story to promote the two little super kids that are the mascot for our annual banquet. We developed a partnership with Literati Press in Oklahoma City. We honored several comic book creators that are here as well this last year. And in the conversations, they said it would be great to illustrate this. And so, with Charles’s (Charles Martin) help, we sat down, did the story. They did the artwork. And we came up with “Mighty Mia & Dyna-Bit Save Democracy.”
Dick Pryor: And so, what is the theme in this comic book, as they save democracy?
Joe Dorman: So back story on me, and before I was a legislator, I was a staff member for the House of Representatives and helped with the educational component for the page program. And through that time, I always loved working with those young people, getting them interested. So that translated into this story. The pages at the Capitol get sent with the stomach flu, and these two superhero kids show up to fill in to (do) the work of 20 pages and help one young lady who didn’t eat the gas station sushi. And the three of them spend the day at the Capitol learning the process and talking about the importance of voting.
Shawn Ashley: How will “Might Mia & Dyna-Bit” be distributed?
Joe Dorman: So, through our Kid Governor program, which is something that we elevated at OICA, this year, we partnered with the Connecticut Democracy Project to bring in their curriculum. That curriculum is distributed through fifth grade classes around the state of Oklahoma that wish to participate. And we had more than 1,000 5th graders participate in the Kid Governor program this year. OICA printed these comic books up and shipped them to every participating class so each kid could have a free comic book. One of the statistics that is out there is less than half of people 18 years old have ever read a comic book. And as a collector, I find that horrific. So, this is a way we can get a comic book in the hands of these kids, hopefully inspire them to read, show them the importance of civics and voting, and make it fun, and hopefully turn them into voters as they age up to 18 and older.
Dick Pryor: Civics education has been neglected in the U.S. for a long time. It certainly has been de-emphasized in schools over the last 20 years. Is this comic book a way to fill that instructional gap with young people?
Shawn Ashley: It absolutely is. We wanted to find a way to make civics and getting involved in the process fun. And this comic book will hopefully get these kids interested in learning about how the process works, maybe even turn them into young public servants, getting them involved in youth programs, run for student council, and then as they get older, certainly register to vote, but maybe even run for a school board, city council, or even governor someday.
Shawn Ashley: This comes almost 47 years after Schoolhouse Rock introduced us to the legislative process with “I’m Just a Bill.” So maybe a new effort to encourage civic participation in voting has been long overdue.
Joe Dorman: Absolutely. I’d be lying to say that didn’t inspire me at a young age, and I still use that in advocacy trainings and teaching about the legislative process. And you talked about the low turnout for voting. We’ve got to find a way to improve this in Oklahoma and throughout the United States, to get kids more inspired, to show up to the ballot box and cast their ballot. Hopefully improve those numbers going forward.
Dick Pryor: Where can people learn more about this new educational comic book?
Joe Dorman: So, people can get a copy at OICA.org if they would like. We are trying to promote this through the rest of the year to get more people interested in this and hopefully grow it for the next school year.
Dick Pryor: Joe Dorman, CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, thank you for stepping up and thanks for joining us on Capitol Insider.
Joe Dorman: Absolutely. Thank you both for all that you do.
Dick Pryor: Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.
(Joe Dorman will be signing copies of “Mighty Mia & Dyna-Bit Save Democracy” at Speeding Bullet Comics in Norman from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. on December 7.)