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Show Those Future Voters How It's Done

September 04, 2004|Ellen S. Schmalholz | Ellen S. Schmalholz is a teacher in Culver City and a freelance writer.

I skipped beside him as he walked, my two skips to his one step. On a Tuesday in November during every election year, after he got home from work, my father would take me to vote with him. He would wrap me up in my winter jacket and make sure I had on my mittens and hat, and off we would go down our street in Brooklyn to the polling place to cast what I firmly believed to be "our" vote.

I would bounce into the school gym, aware of the excitement and energy permeating that large room where voters signed in. Each time, the man or woman behind the table would praise my father for bringing me and tell me what a special honor it was to vote and how lucky I was to be with him.

Inside the voting booth, with its dark blue curtain tightly drawn shut, I would stand quietly with my father while he pushed some buttons or turned some knobs. I'd wait patiently for him to let me pull the big black handle to finalize the deed.

"All done," he'd say, and then he'd walk and I'd skip home. All the way, he would talk about whom he had voted for and why. And at dinner, with my mother now included, I'd sometimes get a different way of looking at the same issue. And that's how I learned to vote.

In my father's 85 years, right up to his last absentee ballot from the nursing home in 1994, he never missed an opportunity to cast his opinion, and, because of him, neither have I. Every year, sometimes twice a year, that proud little girl inside me jumps around as I drive to my polling place. My father is always next to me -- in spirit -- as I punch through my choices. I check the chads now and, with a puffed-up chest, wear the sticker that announces I voted.

With so few of us voting, and so much time, energy and money being spent to get us to the polls, I wonder how we got so complacent, so bored, so disengaged. And I wonder how to get us to reinvest ourselves in our future.

My answer is simple. Turn off the televisions, the telephones, the computers and the electronic games. Sit around the table and ask your kids questions. Ask them about war and poverty. Ask them about clean air and medical care. Ask them about "three strikes" and rehabilitation. Let them know what you think and care about. Invite other families into your home to discuss voting choices. Get people believing that their ideas and their votes count.

Get passionate, debate wildly, formulate your thoughts and beliefs and feel invested in the outcome. Pass along your sense of pride and duty to this country. And whatever else you do, take your children to vote with you.

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