Do you vote? Why I’m showing my daughter the democratic process early

This op-ed was published in the Star-Ledger on August 8, 2018. 

The weekend before the New Jersey primary for the 2018 midterm elections, my daughter Elowyn met her first congressional candidate. Not even six months old, she had no idea that he was not just another friendly face to smile at, but as she gazed up at him and listened to his voice, I thought about how important this was.

Emily and Elowyn Curran

If she grows up meeting candidates and elected officials, when she is old enough to have concerns about her neighborhood, state, or country, she will have no fear of writing, calling, and visiting her representatives to voice her opinion.

On Election Day, my husband debated whether to bring a wiggly infant into the voting booth or drop her off at daycare before heading to the polls. He decided to bring her along. Even though to her, the middle school where we vote was just another new building to look at, we wanted her to see the process as early as possible.

If she sees the inside of a voting booth for the next 18 years, learns where to go, and which line to stand in, she’ll feel no confusion over what to do when it’s her turn to cast her ballot.

When I see statistics of how few young people vote — and even people in their late 20s like me — I sometimes wonder why voting has never been a question for me. I think back to my own childhood. I remember tagging along with my mother for every election and watching her cast her ballot. Our polling place held a bake sale on Election Day, so I always looked forward to it, even though we had to wait in a long line. For me, it seemed voting was just something we did. Just like I learned to share toys and to say “please and thank you,” I learned we always vote.

When I was 5, my older sister and I discovered that our beloved Turtle Back Zoo was slated to close. “You can change this,” our parents told us. My father helped us use the family computer to write letters to the editor, and my mother got us supplies to make signs for a protest we attended. My 8-year-old sister’s letter was published in the local paper, and the zoo remains open to this day. We learned that if you have an opinion, it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can make your voice heard, and you can make a difference.

At The Andrew Goodman Foundation, we believe civic engagement for college students will pave the way for continued lifelong engagement. If students become engaged in the civic and electoral process as soon as they become eligible to vote, they are more likely to vote in the future. As a parent, I think we have to start younger — much younger.

Even though my daughter is only seven months old, I want to start right now. I need to demonstrate the civic process to my daughter every day for the next 18 years and beyond. I want to make sure she doesn’t feel any fear or confusion when taking action to make her voice heard.

All parents want to make decisions that will make the world better for their children. Every time I vote or take civic action, I do it for Elowyn. But I can do more. In less than 18 years, she will be the one making decisions that dictate what kind of world we all live in. I want her to be ready.

About the Author

Emily Curran is the Communications and Development Manager of The Andrew Goodman Foundation. Emily holds a Ph.D. in History and Culture from Drew University, where she focused on twentieth-century American cultural history, culminating in a dissertation entitled, “Natural and Technological Wonders: Embracing Modernity at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.” She received her Bachelor’s degree in History and American Studies from Ramapo College, where she now teaches as an adjunct professor. Prior to joining AGF, she worked as the Visitor Services Coordinator at the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, and she remains an active volunteer with the museum.