My husband and I are political junkies—or at least we were until we had to stop following the news to preserve our mental health. Still, we consider voting a duty, not a privilege. So when our eldest daughter turned 18 in 2006, I wrapped her birthday presents in voter registration forms.
Even then, back in the days when hope was ascendant and our fervor less dampened, voting was complicated. For Emma’s first election, we sat down together at the dining room table piled high with Voter Guides, newspaper clippings and endorsements, and a small forest’s worth of glossy political ads. The lesson commenced.
“It’s pretty impossible to be well informed about all the issues and candidates,” I instructed. “So one strategy is to follow the recommendations of people you trust. Or compare all the editorial endorsements of various newspapers and average them out.”
“Then there’s plenty of well-intended but poorly drafted initiatives. You have to decide what message you want to send or whether to vote purely on the merits. It’s perfectly reasonable to vote your ideals, but it’s also a good strategy to vote pragmatically. Sometimes, to be honest, I vote against whoever is using the most FULL CAPS in the voter information pamphlet—never trust someone who only knows how to shout.”
“This is really depressing,” sighed Emma, staring at hundreds of blank bubbles on her vote-by-mail ballot.
When our daughter Ally turned 18 three years later, she was less interested in my voter education drill. In fact, she registered in her college town, beyond the reach of my knowledge of local issues. Still, a mother can dream of eternal influence, so I sent Ally my trusted friend’s carefully researched election recommendations on statewide and federal choices. I assumed she’d be thankful for my guidance.
“I really don’t appreciate you sending me that,” declared Ally. “I’m trying to be my own person.”
I apologized immediately, adding how proud I was that she was following the issues and figuring things out for herself.
“How are you staying informed?” I ventured.
Ally replied, “I’m just going to vote according to this mailer I got from the Democratic Party.”
So much for Ally’s declaration of independence.
Always the child who suffered most from Post-Traumatic-Dinner-Table-Political-Rants, Ally has now removed herself even farther from our impassioned discussions and maternal interference, to Barcelona. So Jerry Brown and the Democrats will have to make do without her vote.
Emma, though, wanted me to send her mail-in ballot to Brooklyn, where she’s been temporarily sojourning as a starving artist. I am happy to report that she’s been calling for election advice.
Trouble is, now that hope has curdled, I have been shirking my civic responsibilities by being less well-informed. Of course I’ll vote, but I hadn’t quite gotten around to the research phase. So I suggested a couple of sources to check out, then gave the only reliable advice I could:
“Remember, the ballot must ARRIVE by the end of election day, not just be postmarked. So be sure to mail it in time. And please–let us know what you find out, so you can tell us how to vote.”
What is your method of being an informed voter? How have you talked to your kids about politics and voting? Do they follow your lead?