By PAULA HERBART/President – Michigan Education Association
In this election, our democracy is on the ballot.
Our nation has a strong history of conducting free and fair elections, even in the most difficult times. During the Civil War, the fate of our nation — whether we would remain the “United” States — was in doubt, but we successfully conducted two national elections. We did the same during the 1918 pandemic and World War I. The election during World War II was held while the fate of our democracy and our very freedom was uncertain.
Today, we are in the midst of another national election during a time of crisis.
The importance of exercising our right to vote cannot be overstated. That right is the very foundation of our democracy — a democracy that is cherished by both ends of the political spectrum. Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives all come together in agreement that voting is a sacred tenet of our democracy.
While the presidential contest garners the most attention, it is important to vote in the “down ballot” races as well. The congressional, state legislative, county, municipal and judicial races are crucial offices in our democracy. Closer to home, there are races that affect our everyday lives like school board seats and education millages.
As an education union, we know the impact school board members have on our public schools across the state. We also know the importance of providing our schools with the funding our students need to succeed. In Wayne County, for example, an enhancement millage renewal is on the ballot that would continue providing schools with funding to improve programs, safety and technology (we urge a “YES” vote).
Such ballot issues are easily overlooked as television commercials and media attention are focused almost exclusively on races for national office. But decisions on issues like school funding arguably have as much impact on your daily life as who sits in the White House.
The state Supreme Court races are another example of contests that get very little attention, even though the decisions made by that court often have major impacts on the direction of our state.
Voting at all levels of government also provides a “teachable moment” to our kids. The importance of voting to our democracy is something that must be learned. Unfortunately, our country has a consistently lower voter turnout than nearly every other democracy in the world. It’s become clear that in households where parents don’t take the time to exercise their right to vote, children in those homes learn that lesson too.
We can and must do better.
One approach — especially this year, in which some are predicting higher voter participation by mail than in person — is to sit down with your kids and make voting a civics lesson.
You don’t have to be a professional educator to teach kids the voting process. Simply lay out your ballot and ask your child to do a little research on the races and issues you are asked to decide. Then, once they’ve gathered basic information on the candidates and ballot issues, discuss it.
Who knows? Perhaps their research will change your mind on some candidates and issues you thought you were decided upon.
The key is to engage our kids today so they will understand the critical role elections play in our democracy. By doing so, they will be much more likely to participate in the foundation of our democracy when it’s time for them to cast their ballots as adults.