Every election day, voters with different backgrounds and values are heading to the polls to cast their ballots. Some of them are parents with their kids in tow—bringing your child to the polls is permitted in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. although some states have different restrictions on things like age and the number of kids per adult. For some parents, it's more than a childcare necessity that is motivating them to bring their kids to vote.
Five moms with different life experiences explain why they make sure their children are by their side as they exercise their right to vote, whether it's for local, state, or national elections.
COURTESY OF LORRAINE ALLEN
I grew up in a country where women don't have equal rights. I never want my daughter to take her civil liberties for granted.
When I was 9, my mom's job as a United Nations diplomat had my family move from New York to Morocco, where women don't share the same rights as men. Living there until my late teens, I witnessed the oppression of many women and girls, including classmates and friends, as they struggled with forced child marriage, sexual assault, harassment, battery, and domestic abuse that went unchecked and unpunished. There have been strides in the last couple of decades, and Moroccan women were granted the right to vote in the 1960s, but even when laws are passed giving women new freedom and rights, they aren’t always implemented. For example, a 2004 law changed the legal age for marriage for girls from 15 to 18, but judges are still widely allowing minors to be married off.
Because of this, I've never taken my civil liberties in the United States for granted. As a mom, I certainly don't want my own daughter to do so either. One definitive way to impart this life lesson is to take her with me to cast my vote.
My daughter, now a tween, was born days before a presidential election. At the time, I did not feel capable of standing in line to cast my vote with my infant strapped to my chest. My designated polling station was a quarter-mile walk away, the birth had been long and traumatic, and I was running on literally no sleep for days. I was struggling hourly with breastfeeding and diaper changes and had no family nearby to help out. At home that evening, while glued to the muted television screen with my husband, I felt a sense of relief when my chosen presidential candidate won. I knew the following election I’d be at the polls with my daughter in tow.
Ever since that election we missed, we've enjoyed our trips to the polls together. We discuss the candidates, their campaigns, and the different possible outcomes. Through sleet, torrential rains, sinus infections, hours stuck in gridlock traffic, and whatever else has come our way, we look forward to taking our place in line with pencils sharpened—hers for homework, mine for ballot bubbles.
—Lorraine Allen, Brooklyn, New York
Nancy Bulma Fields
Too few people who look like me and my children actually exercise their right to vote.
The 2018 midterm elections were reportedly the highest voter turnout seen in midterm elections since 1914, and the elections saw several electoral firsts for women, minorities and LGBT candidates. That’s wonderful news. But in Maryland—my home state—though 60 percent of the black population were registered voters in 2018 (which is a percentage higher than those in California, Florida, and New York), less than half of them actually voted in the midterm election last year.
Progression isn’t happening at the local level for me. Nevertheless, I take my children with me to vote because too few people in their state that look like them actually exercise their right to do so. When I take my children with me to the polls, they don’t see many black men and women my age standing in line, anxiously waiting to make their voice heard. In fact, last year while on the drive to the polls, though our one local radio station targeting African-Americans encouraged their listeners to vote, listeners called in and said they didn’t want or need to.
I find this point of view unfortunate, and discouraging for not only my children but for me as well. I believe in black people. I trust other black people to make an informed decision about their candidates and vote for people who will promote equity and equality for our race, especially now in our divided and racially tense country. By taking my children with me to vote, I’m showing them that I trust them to bring progress to Maryland and that they too will one day have the opportunity to make their voice heard.
—Christine Michel Carter, Baltimore, Maryland
Courtesy of Erin Heger
I want my kids to know that they can create change in this country.
I remember standing in a voting line with my mom in the sixth grade, feeling optimistic as I looked at everyone around me, all there to have their voices heard. Voting with my parents taught me to believe that change is possible if we all do our part. I always knew I wanted my children to be raised with those same values. And when I became a mom, the pull I've always felt to address injustice and inequality felt even more urgent.
In February 2016, I stood in a long line wrapping around the Kansas City Convention Center, waiting to enter a Bernie Sanders rally. I have a background in abortion rights advocacy, and I had attended and helped organize rallies in the past, but this one felt different and special because I was sharing the moment with my newborn son, only a few weeks old, who was wrapped tightly against my chest.
Since then, I've brought my son and now my daughter to vote in numerous elections at the national, state, and local level. Voting is one of the most effective steps I can take to improve the world around me, and it feels natural to share that with my children. It's also my job as a parent to not only teach them they have a right to have their voices heard, but that it is their duty to be active participants in our democracy. My children are still too young to have in-depth conversations about politics, but they are never too young for me to lay the groundwork of what living your values looks like. After all, their ability to be adults who stand up for what is right starts with me.
—Erin Heger, Olathe, Kansas
Courtesy of Leah Campbell
My daughter is part of a marginalized community and I need her to know that her voice matters.
My daughter is an Alaskan Native. I take her with me to vote because I want her to know that even when society seems broken and lost, she still has a say in reshaping it. I bring her with me so that I can lead by example, helping to ensure she sees voting as the civic duty it is, not something to be taken for granted or blown off.
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I don't remember exactly when I started bringing my daughter to the polls with me, but as soon as she turned 3, I began to explain what it means to have the right to vote. I explained about the power in her voice, and the importance of using that voice to shape the world she wants to live in. Now that she's 6, we talk about my choices. Why I vote the way I do. What certain measures on the ballot mean to me. Why I'm drawn to support some politicians and not others. But we also talk about the fact that one day she'll get to decide for herself. And she doesn't have to vote like Mommy does. She just needs to educate herself on the options, decide what matters to her, and use her voice accordingly. Because her voice matters. And I bring her with me to vote so that she'll always know that.
—Leah Campbell, Anchorage, Alaska
Courtesy of Kim Bongiorno
My children will have the right to vote and I want them to stand up for those who aren't as privileged.
I have given my kids power and choice in many day-to-day decisions through the years and talked to them about how each situation could be handled in a different way. By doing this, they began to see that their decisions not only affect themselves but also others—particularly people who aren't quite as privileged as they are.
Today my kids are 12 and 14. They hear the news and study history, so they can now put the pieces together on a more intellectual level. Our conversations about power include more specific examples of what's going on in the world and what we can do about it. When the sample ballot comes in the mail, we look over it together and discuss who each nominee would affect during their term, and the process of how I come to my final decisions on who to vote for. I explain I do not vote with just myself in mind, but also for the people whose voices aren't always listened to by those in power or by the comfortably privileged. I've taken my daughter to a school board nominee meeting so she could witness the Q&A in person to grasp these are real people with agendas that we're electing. As we drive to our conveniently close polling station, I explain how and why so many other people cannot get to theirs, and what we can do about that.
My kids now see that voting is not a one-day event with a one-person focus. It's a lifestyle of listening and learning. It's something people of all ages can all do with the power we give ourselves and others.
—Kim Bongiorno, New Jersey
PHOTO: COURTESY OF LAURA RICHARDS
I want my kids to know that one day they can make their own bill proposal.
My eldest children are twin boys and one was born with significant vision and hearing impairments. When he needed his first hearing aid, I was stunned to learn that it wasn't covered by insurance and cost thousands of dollars out-of-pocket. Outraged, I got involved in a bill proposal to cover hearing aids for children. We took our boys to the State House in Boston for a long morning of meetings with our state representatives, interfacing with as many lawmakers as possible.
The boys were very young, but the visit made an impression on them as they got to see our government in action and why voting is so important. As a result of our efforts, and that of many other families, we were able to get the bill passed in 2012. My son's hearing aids are now covered by insurance.
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Even at that early age, my kids understood that voting matters because it puts individuals in office that can accomplish important, impactful legislation that affects us.
My twins were able to register early to vote at age 16 and it was a proud day for me and for them. They cannot wait to vote in the 2020 election. They know firsthand how civic involvement makes a difference and that every vote matters.
- Laura Richards, Massachusetts