As a kid growing up in small–town Ohio, Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters Ohio, would walk with her parents a couple of blocks every election time to the polling place. There, she’d vote in a booth for kids and write in “Sitting Bull” each presidential election. Afterward, she got a voting sticker and would go home where she and her parents would talk about their voting decisions. Now, she has taught her kids to do the same.
Parents Need to Model Good Civic Behavior
Thomas Jefferson wrote that a well-informed citizenry was a requirement for democracy. But current voting data shows that only 53% of the U.S. voting population cast a ballot in the 2018 midterm election, even though it was the highest midterm turnout in 40 years.
According to a Tufts University survey, young people who recalled high–quality civics education experiences were more likely to vote, form political opinions, know campaign issues and know general facts about the U.S. political system. While most children are more likely to learn this behavior from their parents, only 40.3% of 10 million youth ages 18-29 voted in the 2018 midterm elections.
Why do young people not vote? One reason is that their parents never taught them to vote. Miller learned the value of voting from her parents taking her to the polls. Because she had these experiences, she was more likely to vote at age 18. Why? Because voting is considered a habitual act, an act that is often formed early on for kids when modeled by their parents. So, parents are a significant factor in whether kids vote.
Miller says that another reason young people don’t vote is because navigating the system is so confusing. Voting can be complicated, which is not surprising because voting requirements differ from state to state and have become, in recent years, more restrictive.
“Some teens would show up with the wrong ID, or didn’t realize that there were registration dates,” Miller says.
To make things less confusing, parents and teens can access the League of Women Voters website, the county election board, or even the Secretary of State’s website for accurate voting information. When in college, parents should find out the requirements for absentee voting so their kids can still vote.
Don’t Rely on Schools to Teach Civics
Right now, only nine states require a full year of civics education, whereas 10 states don’t require it at all. Even then, 30 states, including Ohio, require a mere semester of learning. Ohio requires seniors to pass a civics test to graduate. But parents can no longer rely on schools alone to teach civics. What can parents do to teach civics to their teens?
First, they can involve their kids in the election process by taking them to the polls and talking about election candidates and issues. They can encourage their schools to take advantage of the many programs that the League of Women Voters offer. Schools can hold their mock elections, which is, says Miller, “a great opportunity to connect with national elections.” Plus, kids who are 18 years old on election day can work the polls as part of the Youth at the Booth program.
Finally, the Ohio Center for Law–Related Education sponsors an instructional program called We the People, where youth learn about government processes by participating in simulated congressional hearings. Most of all, parents can engage their kids, listen to what they think about the issues, and encourage them to think critically. That is, after all, the basis of our democracy.
Ohio Voting Information
Your Civic Responsibilities
Is voting a citizen’s only duty? No. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services list these responsibilities for each citizen:
- Support and defend the Constitution
- Stay informed about the issues
- Respect and obey laws
- Respect other’s beliefs, rights and opinions
- Participate locally
- Pay taxes
- Serve on a jury
- Defend the country if the need arises