Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

Now’s a great time to have a conversation with your kids about why you vote, who you support, and why.

HENRICO—It’s the first Tuesday in November. There’s no school, but an important lesson is readily available. Rather than dropping off your kids with a sitter to go and vote, why not take them to the polls with you?

That’s precisely what Emily Griffey, chief policy officer for Henrico-based Voices for Virginia’s Children, does with her two kids.

“I have a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old. We talk to them about upcoming elections and point out the signs. I’ve taken my kids to vote most of the time when I’ve gone in person,” Griffey said. “So there’s never a time that’s too early to begin.”

In Griffey’s case, taking the family out to vote is both a fun and important event. 

“I think that there are many things that are responsibilities that we try to make fun as parents—you know, cleaning up, chore time, all of those things. So the approach is in line with that similar concept, and I think it can be a little bit of both, right?” Griffey said. “You know, I’m proud to go vote. We celebrate going to vote. We talk about Election Day and have Election Day routines in our family. And so [we try] to make it fun as well as a serious responsibility of reviewing candidates’ positions and what they believe in and whether that matches our values.”

With less than one week to go until the Virginia election on Nov. 2—when Virginians will choose their next governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and House delegates—now’s a great time to engage in election conversations with your kids. 

Educating on Elections

While most K-12 students are still too young to vote in a statewide election, Virginia schools educate students on everything from voting history to voting rights to the voting process.

In Henry County Public Schools (HCPS), a detailed election conversation starts in middle school—but that’s not their first introduction to voting in the classroom.

“HCPS seventh graders discuss elections in-depth in their civics [and] economics course, but we encourage civic engagement at all levels and often hold mock elections at elementary, middle and high schools to highlight the importance of voting for our students,” said Monica Hatchett, director of communications for Henry County Public Schools.

In past years, local schools set up interactive election opportunities for students to experience. For example, some schools set up electronic voting booths using iPads so that students could see real-time results, while other student groups analyzed campaign slogans or evaluated graphic designs of campaign posters. 

“Many students express excitement at the prospect of practicing this important responsibility, at seeing the results for their school, and comparing their school results to the final election results following the official election,” Hatchett said. “It is our hope that they see that both in a mock election and-or in a student body election for positions such as class officers, for example, that their voice and their vote matters.”

Future Voters

Christine Lewis, deputy registrar for Virginia Beach, said there generally aren’t many kids who accompany their parents to vote in the area—but those that do often get into the process.

“[Children are] allowed to accompany the parent into the booth. They just can’t, you know, mark the ballot for the parent, of course,” Lewis said. “But they’re allowed to go in the booth and watch the parent vote.”

The moments before parents and their kids arrive at their polling precinct also opens opportunities for conversations. Before entering the polling booth, Lewis talked to her children about why she selected each candidate that she chose and what views he or she had that aligned with her own.

“I think it’s a good influence,” Lewis said. “It just shows them that their parent is participating in the election and they have a voice to see who gets elected.”

Beyond the opportunity to see democracy in action, there’s one additional incentive for kids accompanying their parents to Virginia Beach precincts—the coveted election sticker. In Virginia Beach, children receive a special sticker.

“All of our locations have kids voting stickers,” Lewis said.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com.