Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Do You Teach Your Kids About Voting?
My daughter is a thinker. She has always asked questions ahead of her time and often surprises us with very thought-provoking questions about society, community, relationships - things most kids her age don't think to much about yet. The subject of voting is one that she has always taken a great interest in. So it didn't really surprise me last night when she asked me if I knew who I was voting for and why.
I always take the opportunity to exercise my right to vote whether it is a presidential election or a county ballot. I feel that it is my duty as a citizen and my opportunity to voice my opinion and influence change by electing like-minded leaders. I also feel that it is my responsibility to choose candidates based on their qualifications overall as I would if I were hiring the person to be my employee (which in a way, they are). I do evaluate and vote for the candidates for every possible position on the ballot right down to school board members. Change is often influenced from the bottom up and those who live and serve locally know best what our community needs.
While I try to filter out a lot of the pre-election clutter, I do use some of the tools available to evaluate the candidates right before the election if I am not already familiar with them. I don't vote straight-ticket because I don't feel that I agree fully with all the generic policies of any party or that any one party has all the most-qualified candidates. I usually watch the debates because I view this as sort-of the face-to-face job interview. Its my chance to see how they will react under extreme pressure and how they present themselves to the world beyond our borders.
I have taken both my children with me to vote since they were born. They always get the "I Voted" sticker and a fake ballot they can fill out and keep. Little Man at age 3 hasn't really gotten to interested beyond the sticker yet, but at 9, big sister is an old hand at voting. Her schools and teachers since kindergarten have discussed voting and even sometimes run mock elections. She always looks forward to her opportunity to consider the issues and pretend to issue her vote. I have no doubt that I am raising dedicated and confident voters who will make informed choices based on their own beliefs and values.
It can sometimes be hard to decide how much information to give and how to approach these kinds of subjects with your kids. I have always been honest about my opinions with them. My daughter asked last night why I chose a particular presidential candidate and I explained that I had evaluated both candidates and while I don't completely agree with either on every policy, I chose the one who most closely aligned with my values and beliefs and who I think would make choices most similar to what I would do if I were in that office. She indicated that she had come to chose the same candidate and when I asked why, she indicated that it was partially due to some of the television ads and things she overheard other people saying about the two candidates. I explained that sometimes you have to be careful that you don't totally believe everything you hear from other people or on commercials - that facts can sometimes be twisted and sometimes people flat-out lie to make each other look bad. And sometimes, people just don't know all the facts about what happened in a particular situation. Sometimes, people also disagree on how something should be handled. Other times, a person might make a decision and later wish they had handled it differently.
I used the analogy of our family and how it takes teamwork to keep everything running smoothly. That when the house is a mess it isn't just one person's fault and it takes more than one person to fix it - or if everyone argues about the best way to fix it, we waste a lot of time arguing and the house doesn't get clean as fast. But if we work together to figure out the best way to solve it, or we break it into smaller pieces and each person does what they are really good at, then it gets done even faster than we thought. Personally, I feel like government, business, and society in general work that way.
Many state or local government websites offer voter information pages that can provide you with an easy way to find your polling place, see the actual language of ballot proposals, and view a full list of candidates and issues you will be voting on in your district. Many will also allow you to click on the candidate's name to get background information and their stances on the major issues. Those of you who are here in Michigan can start here: https://webapps.sos.state.mi.us/mivote/. At this website you can click on the Public Ballot link and it will allow you to enter your voter information and will display a full ballot exactly the way you will see it on November 6. My county website also allows me to track the election results as they are reported by each district.
Voting on election day (Tuesday, November 6) is easy. Know where your polling location is. If you can go at an odd time of the day while most folks are working or first thing in the morning, you can often be in and out quickly. The only thing you need to bring on election day is your driver's license or state ID and you cannot wear or carry anything that identifies which candidate(s) you support. There are usually several clerks each handling a portion of the alphabet and you will show them your ID so they can check you in. Then you will be given a ballot and directed to a voting booth. Once you have completed your ballot, you will feed it yourself into a locked machine. And you are done. No blood or tears involved.
If you need help talking to your kids about voting, PBS Kids has a great website that talks about voting and the democratic process at http://pbskids.org/democracy/vote/. It talks about everything from how voting in America has evolved to low voter turnout and even allows kids to vote or print their own posters. Think about raising the next generation of voters - if we don't teach them to make decisions on their own now, how will they make decisions for their future and their children's future?
Posted by April S.