Be Good to Your Daughters: Teach Them To Vote
Volume 2, Issue 14, April 2005, pp.16 and 17.
don’t vote. We have the lowest voter participation of any of the
world’s democracies. If present trends continue, most of the more
than 70 million Americans under the age of 18 today will never see the
inside of a polling booth (or the screen of a new electronic voting
Part of the problem is that young Americans don’t know why voting
matters in a democracy. Current estimates are that only 25% of
high school seniors have more than a rudimentary knowledge of how the
American system of democratic government works. According to the
1999 New Millennium Report, issued by the National Association of
Secretaries of State, only 28% of young people vote because they
believe it is their civic duty.
One of the reasons for this trend is that our schools don’t do a very
good job of civics education. The New Millennium Report found
that 55% of youth agree "the schools do not do a very good job of
giving young people the information needed to vote." And, many young
people who are tuned in share the cynicism of many Americans about our
current system. Another New Millennium Report finding was that the vast
majority of young people distrusts politics and believes that
government is "run by a few big interests looking out for themselves,
not for the benefit of all."
The Virginia General Assembly recognizes that civics education in
Virginia needs attention. A bill passed in the most recently
completed legislative session establishes a new Commission on Civics
Education with the following purposes:
The purposes of the Commission shall include (i) the education of
students on the importance of citizen involvement in a representative
democracy, (ii) the promotion of the study of state and local
government among the Commonwealth's citizenry, and (iii) the
enhancement of communication and collaboration among organizations in
the Commonwealth that conduct civic education programs.
The first report from this new Commission will be due on the first day
of the 2006 session of the General Assembly.
Regardless of what happens in school, parents can and do play an
important role in young people’s attitudes on voting and their interest
in or knowledge of our political system. Only 21% of young people
surveyed in the New Millennium Report stated that they "often spoke
with their parents about politics or current events" when they were
If women are to play their proper role as the demographic majority in
our democracy, we need to be sure that we are raising our daughters to
vote and participate actively in the political process. This is
especially true here in Virginia where women don’t register to vote or
turnout to vote with the same frequency as women in more than 30 other
states. As I reported in “Why Women Don’t Vote,” RichmondWOMAN
(November 2003), from 1992-96 Virginia ranked 36th out of 50 states in
terms of the number of women registered to vote (5th out of nine in the
South Atlantic Region) and 33rd out of 50 states in women’s voter
turnout (3rd out of nine in the Region).
What, then, can we do to help our daughters become voters? We can make
sure that they see us voting every time there is an election.
And, we can encourage our daughters to get involved in existing
programs for young people that will help them understand the meaning of
democracy and the voting process.
One such program is the Virginia Student Parent Mock Election
(VSPME). Affiliated with the National Student Parent Mock
Election, the goal of VSPME, www.va-mockelection.org, is to “help
protect and strengthen democracy by building an informed electorate.”
Operated out of the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government
and International Studies here in Richmond, VSPME offers students in
grades K-12 and their parents the opportunity to get involved in policy
forums and participate in a mock election each year. Schools
across Virginia participate in the mock election and the annual Youth
Policy Forum at the State Capitol, which is a model for similar
programs around the country.
Another program in which young people can engage is We the People, an
initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities designed to
strengthen “teaching, study, and understanding of American history and
culture.” High school juniors are invited each year to
participate in an essay contest on The Idea of America. The
deadline for entering this year is April 15, 2005. More
information is available on the web at http://www.wethepeople.gov/essay/guidelines.html.
The Center for Civic Education also sponsors a program offered in many
Virginia schools called We the People: The Citizen and the
Constitution. As described by the Center, “the foundation of the
We the People program is the classroom curriculum. It complements the
regular school curriculum by providing upper elementary, middle, and
high school students with an innovative course of instruction on the
history and principles of constitutional democracy in the United
States. The We the People textbooks are designed for a wide range of
student abilities and may be used as a supplemental text or for a full
semester of study.”
The Center sponsors a statewide and national competition for students
who have participated in the curriculum. For more information on
this program, see http://www.civiced.org/wethepeople.php.
Voting remains the
most powerful tool of any person in a
democracy. Mothers, please don’t let your daughters grow up to be