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Training Future Voters

Voting! Voting is imperative in a democratic society. Many of us know and believe this. And yet, statistically, young people, who make up the largest numbers of eligible voters, choose not to exercise their right. At any given dinner party or family meal, my friends and I debate the reasons for this, as well as interrogate any young adult who happens to be dining with us about why this could be. There are as many reasons as there are young adults who are willing to dine with middle-aged friends of their parents.

For those of us old enough to remember, convenience stores used to sell these wonderful candy cigarettes. They looked just like a cigarette and, when you exhaled, powdered sugar would float out of the bottom. states that studies have proven that parents had legitimate worries about children being desensitized to smoking because of the pretend play they did with this sugary treat. According to

“One of the problems with candy cigarettes was that they were just so convincing. Early brands had names modeled after real cigarette companies. Viceroy became Viceyo. Marlboro became Marboro. Camel became Acmel, and Winston became Winstun. What’s more, the packaging mimicked real cigarettes as well, so that these mint-flavored candies almost perfectly mimicked the real thing.

Parents worried that the candies, convincing replicas of what were now known to be dangerous carcinogens, desensitized children to smoking and made them more likely to use real cigarettes as adults. And as it turns out, studies have shown that fear to be true!

Fortunately candy cigarettes are very hard to find and not sold in most countries any longer.

Using this logic- if children could be trained to be future smokers by selling candy cigarettes, I wondered why couldn’t we create future voters by holding mock elections in the early childhood classrooms?

This is just what I have done for the past 10 years. Every year that there is a national election, I create a system for the whole school to vote. We always do this on election day, November 4th, so that the children can make the connection of what they are doing with what their parents (hopefully) or will do that day.

Sometimes we vote on whether we like gummy bears or gummy worms. Sometimes the choice is yogurt pouches versus apple sauce pouches. Sometimes it is a color. (I find food to be a great choice because children usually have very strong opinions about the food they do and do not like.)

Every child is given a name tag that is color coded to his group. I create decorated ballot boxes out of tissue boxes. We provide visual and, sometimes, taste-test samples of the choices, and then ask the children to vote. I always graph the results using the color-coded name tags to create a visually organized bar graph. I display this for children and their families to see for as long as the many name tags will remain adhered to the wall.

The older classes will count the results as a group during a rug meeting. (This is a terrific, all-group early math activity. They report to me which choice won the ballot so I can graph the results.)

The best part of our election day is when the children receive a “I voted” sticker—just like their parents (hopefully). Most voting places are more than willing to give a school a roll of the “I Voted” stickers when they hear about a project such as this.

Time will tell whether or not my small sample of pint-sized voters will actually cast their ballots once they are legally able to choose more than just a candy worm or a bear. The question now is, How to get the actual young adults who are now legally able, to vote. Perhaps I can bribe the ones closest to me, those who often sit for meals at my dining room table with a gummy bear or two.

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