Legislative Session 2012
Raising a Voter
Once or twice a year when I was small, my mom would don her most patriotic red sweater and spend the school day in my elementary school’s cafeteria, which was our polling place. I loved seeing her up on the stage standing next to the American flag, handing out ballots to our neighbors and answering voting questions for our fellow citizens.
After I had finished eating my lunch, I would join her at the voting booth. She would settle me onto her lap and together we would mark off the boxes next to the candidates and issues that she supported. She would let me place the ballot into the collection box, which I did with pride and a dramatic flourish.
As an adult, I would often pass my neighbors as we walked to and from our local polling place. There was always a smile and a nod to the “I Voted” sticker that we each sported on voting day. It was a nice sense of camaraderie.
Once I had children, I brought them with me to vote, even though they were too small to understand what was going on. I wanted them to know that their mom votes and to learn at my side how to participate in the civic process. When we switched to the mail-in only system a few years ago, I realized that it was going to be a lot more difficult with no voting booth to visit. The voter’s pamphlet arrives in the mail and my temptation is to set it aside until the children are in bed.
However, if I don’t take the time to look at my voting choices in the presence of my children, to show them my mail-in ballot and to talk with them about how and why I vote, I am not going to successfully teach them to be informed, engaged citizens. Thus, I have developed a plan for teaching my children about elections and voting, which I hope will help other families.
1. Register to vote, show your children your voter’s registration card, and explain what it means to you to vote.
2. Discuss why you support a candidate, and what values you hold. Which are your most important issues? How do you rank them? How does that help you choose a candidate? Ask your child which issues they would make a priority.
3. Show them how you gather information in order to make a decision about topics that you don’t know much about. Do you ask friends? Look at an online resource? Rely on your political party’s recommendations? Read a newspaper? Let your children help you research. Compare what the different sources say.
4. Watch interviews and political debates with your children. Help them investigate any questionable claims. Talk to your children about what it means to you when you discover something is true or untrue and how that influences how you will vote.
5. Discuss situations when your children get to vote. What influences who gets their support for student body president? How popular the candidates are? How smart? How attractive? The cleverness of their campaigns? What they say in their campaign speeches? Why do these things matter? Do they think these things matter to adults as well when they are choosing elected officials?
6. If there is a cause that you and your family feel strongly about, volunteer together to collect signatures, pass out literature, etc. This helps your children learn firsthand that they can make a difference in the political process even before they are old enough to vote.
7. Discuss the election results. Later, help your kids check if promises by the elected officials are kept, and if a new law solved the problem it intended to. Help your children connect what is happening now to what was voted on previously.