Let’s get this out there first: It is unquestionably easier to vote without a child in the voting booth with you.
As someone who has taken three or four children into the booth with me at once, I totally get it. That baby carrier or car seat stroller is bulky as hell. There is pushing of emotional buttons, and possibly actual voting booth buttons (not necessarily so legal). There are space issues.
And once you actually get to the front of what feels like an interminable line, the curtain closes behind you, someone inevitably has to pee at that very second (hopefully, the one in diapers, but probably not). Oh, and maybe you are at the one voting location in the USA that has neither a bake sale nor “I Voted!” stickers.
All this being the case, I take my kids to vote with me every year. I am fortunate to have many children to choose from, but at least one gets to come and see democracy in action. And I find that the times we have gone to the voting booth as a family have led to great and powerful memories.
I remember when I took my then-3-and-a-half-year-old to cast my vote for Barack Obama in 2008. We left the voting booth and he threw his hands over his head and yelled, “Barack Obama IS OUR NEW PRESIDENT!”— garnering much consternation. (I vote in a district that seems to be very old, white and grumpy.) I remember looking at his happy, hopeful little face and thinking, “This little boy will never remember an America where it was unimaginable to have a President who wasn’t a white man.” And my heart soared like an eagle in the sky.
I remember taking my four children — two elementary school age boys, one 15-month-old girl and one newborn — to vote in 2012. We were bundled up, as the weather had gotten precipitously colder. It was an overcast day, and our house was going on week two with no power, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully for small mercies, that was the one year my polling station decided to give out hot chocolate. “Voting is THE BEST,” one of my boys said, his hands clutching warm sustenance. That particular Election Day got warmer because of the kindness of neighbors. We were literally all in this together.
And of course, I will always remember Election Day 2016. It was a gorgeous, sunny day in New Jersey, the leaves like golden and ochre jewels on the trees. My little girls wore pantsuits to cast what we hoped would be the vote for the first woman President of the United States. It was a day filled with so much joy and hope. Being a Presidential election, the lines were longer than usual, but that year, they were filled with parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and caregivers who had made sure to bring their little girls. It was a day I will never forget, even though I can never remember it without the sucker punch feeling of that evening and all that has come thereafter.
Election Day is a day where I feel proud to be an American and to exercise my right to vote and say my piece. Sharing that pride with my children has always been a source of joy. But more than that, it is a source of hope. It is what this country is truly about.
I hope Election Day moves people to vote. I hope Election Day moves people to make sure that every single American is able to exercise that right and is able to create memories with their families. We live in a beautiful and yet flawed country. Not everyone can vote. Some risk losing their jobs if they take the time to wait in lines, and the idea of voting with their children is nothing more than a pipe dream.
But I believe in Theodor Herzl’s proposition that if you will it, it is no dream. The only way to show our children how essential the right to vote is, is to take them to see it for themselves. I hope that the cumulative memories of voting together will permeate their subconscious, creating part of the mental scaffolding of what it is to be an American and to have responsibilities toward our fellow citizens.
I hope that one day, I see the day when I will get to vote with my children, but with them going into their own booth and pulling down their own lever. And maybe if I am truly lucky, a grandkid or two will be there as well.