The national mid-term elections may have passed, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be voting in the United States in 2019. There is, for example, a Chicago run-off election for mayor in April. Charlotte, Dallas, and San Francisco also have municipal elections this year. Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi have gubernatorial elections. Plus, the 2020 primary elections start less than a year from now.
These elections will likely have one thing in common: Too few Americans — especially younger Americans — will vote. This depressing trend has to change, and you can begin with your children. Here are 11 ways you can teach your kids about elections.
1. Bring your kids along to the polls
When you vote, whether it’s early on Election Day or in the weeks beforehand, bring along your kids. The amazing thing about the homo sapiens species is that kids model behavior after their parents. By seeing you make the effort to cast your ballot, your kids will see the nuts and bolts of democracy in action. It will also make them more likely to vote when they turn 18.
2. Showcase other ways we vote
When you start to look, voting is everywhere — not just for president. You can vote for your favorite singer on “The Voice.” And fans can vote for all-stars in the NBA and in Major League Baseball. You can use these examples to explain how political elections work.
3. Hold an election in your household
There’s no presidential election for a year and a half, but there’s probably a local election in your town or state. As the elections approach, have your entirely family vote for governor, mayor, sheriff or dog catcher. If your kids are older, you can have them do online research on the candidates and even “campaign” among your family members for their candidate. You can use time with your kids — as you drive them to school or sit down to dinner — to talk about the election as you drive your kids to school or sit down to dinner.
4. Let your kids know voting is a rarity in history
For most of history, regular people did not participate in the political decisions that affected their lives. Instead, those decisions were made by kings or tsars or emperors. Make sure your kids know how sacred and rare the right to vote is. You might also tell your kids that voting is a hard-fought privilege for which many people died — for example, in wars such as the American Revolution and, more recently, in the civil rights movement, where men like Medgar Evers and countless others were murdered in an effort to prevent African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.
5. Make bedtime reading about voting
There are a handful of books that laud the value of voting to your kids. Novelist Dave Eggers recently wrote a children’s book about civic involvement called What Can a Citizen Do? Plus, I co-wrote a new illustrated book titled Voting With a Porpoise, which tells the story of a dolphin pod (and one porpoise) deciding whether to leave their reef.
6. Stay up with your kids to watch the election coverage on TV
Staying up late with your kids is for special occasions. There’s the Super Bowl and maybe the Oscars. You should add Election Night to this list. Turn on the TV and sit on the couch with the kids — demonstrating to them that the day when we elect our leaders is a cause for celebration.
Kids under 18 can’t vote, but they can get involved. So can you — show your children just how important elections are by getting involved. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport. Candidates need help with mailings, phone calls, and cavassing. If you’d rather not support a specific candidate, you can volunteer to be an election judge or poll watcher in your precinct.
8. Pay attention to signs of democracy in operation
When Election Day is approaching, point out the signs of democracy in action. There will be commercials on TV, signs planted on front lawns, fliers being delivered to mailboxes, and canvassers knocking on your door. Make sure kids are aware of these signs that are part of the democratic process and necessary precursors to making sure that voters know about the candidates and their policies.
9. Have your children register to vote on their 18th birthday
When we turn 16, we get our driver’s licenses. When we turn 21, we have our first legal beer. When we turn 18, we should celebrate by registering to vote. Participating in democracy is more important than driving or drinking. Instill this idea in your kids long before their 18th birthday comes along.
10. Support voting rights
Casting your ballot is harder than it should be. To make sure our kids can vote in large numbers, we need to consider supporting measures that will make it easier to vote. Show your children that their voice should be heard by getting behind ideas such as: early voting, making Election Day a national holiday, and extending voting hours so working people who find it hard to spare a day off can make it to the polls.
11. Encourage your school to incorporate Election Day into the curriculum
Around election time, voting-oriented activities should be part of every grade school teacher’s lesson plans. For instance, they can ask their students to vote on that day’s snack; the treat with the most votes will be served to the entire class. Children are hyper-aware of unfairness and instinctively understand that voting is the fairest way for groups to make decisions that affect everyone.
By involving our children in the political process, let’s start to change the culture around voting in the United States for future generations.
To teach your kids more about making their voices heard, read them the wonderfully illustrated children’s book Voting With a Porpoise.