Parenting: Getting kids to vote

David Murphy says getting teenagers to vote for the first time isn't always easy, but it's worth it.
David Murphy says teens should be encouraged to vote, and assisted with negotiating obstacles.
August 16, 2012 6:54:46 PM PDT
The legal age to vote is 18, which means most first-time voters are still living at home when they inherit this right. However without a little nudge from their parents, many don't bother.

In our house, we discussed the political issues of the day with our kids as they were nearing their first vote, as well as the basic differences between the parties. They were not forced to head to the polls, by any means, but we encouraged them to think about it and to consider joining in the process. In this way, we hoped to lay the groundwork for future voting.

One argument young people sometimes make against taking the trouble to cast a ballot (along with some older people, too) is that one vote doesn't really make a difference when considered against the backdrop of millions.

Our counter-argument has always been that while it may feel that way, particularly when it comes to large, national races, elections also feature local races involving a much smaller electorate. In these cases, a few votes can sometimes make a world of difference.

Furthermore, I don't condone an over-zealous political passion in my kids. I do think it's important to have a clue as to what's going on in their country, and it's healthy to pick at least one or two issues that they feel are important.

Anyone who's taken Introduction to Political Science knows that people vote for all sorts of reasons and many of them are rather uniformed. Better to have something to tip the scale beyond simply, "I like this candidate's name better", or "I'm voting for party A or B because that's the way my parents vote".

Of course, there's also the chance that voting young might unleash an interest in politics that transcends the casual. While there are many obvious reasons why I wouldn't wish a political career on my worst enemies, if a kid ends-up attracted to it, I wouldn't want to discourage them. After all, they might be good at it. For many, voting is what initially lights the fire.

Of course, there are obstacles beyond the issue of getting a kid interested. Teenagers are busy. Getting to the polls may well conflict with school, jobs and social obligations. It gets especially tough when a kid moves away to college and has to file an absentee ballot.

Pennsylvania is adding another wrinkle this year with the new Voter-ID requirements. There was a recent study done by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (info@pennbpc.org). In the study, visits to various PennDot license centers revealed that only 13 percent of the locations had proper signage and paperwork regarding obtaining an ID suitable for voting.

Another point of confusion, according to the study's authors, is that PennDot Photo Centers do not issue voter IDs. Voters must first go to head to a Driver's License Center to fill-out the forms. Additionally, some people have been improperly charged a fee for the ID which is supposed to be free. Of course, if your child has a driver's license, they can use that at the polls. If not, they may need some help negotiating this evolving process.

In summary, kids don't always place much stock in their right to vote in the United States. But it's still a basic right that many other people around the world do not share and sorely miss.

It only takes a little conversation to become informed and it may also take some help from parents for a new voter to actually see the process through.

---David Murphy

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