Why all the signs, Mom?
September 27, 2010
by Jenni Sebora

It’s a question that my kids ask all the time, “Where are all these signs coming from?” For my 6-year-old, it’s an introduction to a whole new vocabulary: sheriff, representative, senator. While the presidential election years get all the attention, an off-year election such as this may provide a better opportunity to teach our children about elections and why they are important.

These local contests are usually free from any party designation, and thus, the complications (drawbacks?) of our party system do not have to be explained. While township supervisors and city council positions may not have the pizzazz that the Obama-McCain race had, they exemplify to our children the true purpose of holding public office – public service. This is one component that should be stressed.

Children can be taught from an early age that, in our country, the people choose their leaders and what a relatively new idea this is, especially after every story they’ve been told or watched involves kings or queens as rulers.

Some things that you can talk over with your child about elections:

• Participation – stress that only the people voting will decide who will represent them, what laws are passed, and, in some cases, how money is spent. The more people that vote, the more accurately the outcome of the election reflects the wishes of the people. Voting gives people a way to express their opinions.

• Fairness – voting is a fair way for citizens to decide an issue. When more people vote for a particular item than another, they are saying that this is what most people want for their community.

• Equality – the voting booth is one of the great equalizers of our society. Rich or poor, we all stand in line, use the same voting booths, and get one vote to decide what is best for our community and who will represent us. Discuss with your child what might happen if only certain people got to vote.

• Accountability – your child might recognize some signs from the last election cycle. Children should know that if our leaders, want to stay our leaders they must be chosen by the voters again. You might have a discussion as to why (or why not) the requirement of reelection is a good thing.

Encourage questions from your youngster about elections and try to answer them as neutrally as you can. (Easier said than done, I know).

In Minnesota, children are allowed to accompany parents to the voting booth. What a great teaching moment. Complete the process by taking the opportunity to discuss with your child why you voted the way you did.

“The will of the people shall be the law of the land.” – Robert M. LaFollett Sr.