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Mothers Be Good to Your Daughters: Teach Them To Vote
RICHMONDWOMAN, Volume 2, Issue 14, April 2005, pp.16 and 17.

Americans 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 machine).

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 growing up.

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

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

Voting remains the most powerful tool of any person in a democracy.  Mothers, please don’t let your daughters grow up to be non-voters.(end)

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