Kofi Anan once said, “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime.” These processes are never more evident than when elections come around. With lawn signs, TV ads, phone calls and more, it’s a rich time for grandparents and all older adults to teach young people how important it is to be a good citizen.
Voting is an essential element of a democracy. Yet voter turnout is usually lower during mid-term elections. Skipping the opportunity to vote sends the wrong message to the next generation. A 2021 study found adult grandchildren whose grandparents voted were more likely to vote themselves.
You may think your vote doesn’t matter but it does in more ways than one.
Three-quarters of grandparents say voting is a value they are passing down, or they are interested in passing down, to their grandchildren. Consistently demonstrating its importance is critical.
As the midterm elections come to a close, use this opportunity to share the value of voting with the young people in your life. Consider these ideas and start now:
- Discuss how every vote counts.
One way to make this come alive for your grandchildren is to create a voting timeline that shows how voting rights have been established and threatened over the years. Personalize it by indicating the first year you voted and noting significant aspects of the elections you remember most vividly. Find out how your grandchildren feel about local or national issues that they can relate to, and how their vote could affect those issues. As the results come in, look at some of the close races and talk about how the outcome could affect your communities and our country.
2. Write a welcome letter together to a newly elected official and let them know what’s important to you.
Find an issue you both care about, whether it’s a new crosswalk, investing in high-quality education, protecting the environment, or ensuring people of all ages have access to health care. Show them if it’s important, it’s important enough to take the time to express your opinion.
3. Vote for the future.
A 2013 poll found the majority of Americans believe that publicly funded programs targeted at specific age groups such as K-12 or Social Security are not burdensome responsibilities to certain age groups, but investments that benefit all generations. Talk with your grandchildren about a ballot initiative that you voted for that didn’t directly impact you, but you knew was a good investment in the future, their future.
4. Help your grandchild or another young adult register to vote.
While attention is still on the election results, if your grandchild is 18 or older and not registered, get them registered. You can do this online or even more fun, if you live in the same area, take them in person and then have lunch.
5. Prepare for future elections now and make voting an intergenerational experience.
Plan to take your grandchild or a neighborhood teenager to the polls. You can celebrate afterwards with a treat and talk about the experience. If you vote by mail, research your candidates together and fill out your ballot with your grandchild or another young person in your life. If you volunteer at a polling place, invite them to come by and help you out for an hour. Start now to develop this into a community-wide activity
6. Recruit other older adults and volunteer together in a school.
There are a number of terrific intergenerational programs that support transferring civic values from one generation to another. Some examples of discussion questions include:
· What was the first Presidential election that you voted in?
· Susan B Anthony and her suffrage activism was not enough to get women the right to vote before she died. Her efforts included…
· The voting age requirement was not always at 18. I remember when…
As grandparents, grand-aunts and uncles and caring adults, we all have a responsibility and an opportunity to keep our country strong and invest in our citizens of the future.
Whatever the results are, talk with your grandchildren about the effects of the outcome and how it will impact your communities. And plan to make voting an intergenerational experience in the future.