Voting With Kids: The 411 on Taking Your Children to the Polls

voting and kidsCall me a naive new mom, but when a friend told me you're actually allowed to bring your children into the voting booth with you, I was mildly stunned. It hadn't even occurred to me to drag my baby with me to the polls when I vote for President on Election Day. I couldn't picture waiting in that long line with the poor girl, who at 11 months is very squirmy and itching to crawl everywhere, then pushing her stroller into the cramped booth, pulling the curtain closed (we cast votes behind dark curtains here in New York), and yanking the rickety old lever once I'd ticked off my picks. My guess is it would scare her, there would be tears (but enough about me), and we'd come away from the electoral experience a hot mother-daughter mess.

That said, plenty of moms -- and dads! -- don't have the choice of leaving their kids at home because they have no one to watch them. For many parents, it comes down to bringing the children to the polls or not voting at all.

I think most of us would agree that it's better for people in that situation to vote with their kids in tow than stay home for an important election (unless they're voting for the other guy, in which case they should definitely sit this one out -- kidding!). Other parents want their children to experience voting starting when they're young -- also a great reason to bring 'em along.

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No matter what the situation, a surprising number of us don't know the first thing about the rules on voting with kids. But to quote an ex-presidential candidate, help is on the way. Here are 6 basics you need to know about voting with your children:

1) You are allowed to bring children under 18 with you into the voting booth in every state in the country. So yes, teenagers who are 16 or 17 can come in with you, believe it or not. So can newborns and kids of every age in between.

2) Many states limit the number of children you can take in to vote with you. In Maryland, for example, it's two or fewer under 18 who can accompany a parent or caregiver into the booth. So what's a single mom of three to do when she can't get a babysitter? I guess she'd better make fast friends with the people in line behind her ...

3) While at the polls, your children may not interfere with or disrupt the voting process or they may be asked to leave. Meaning there goes your chance to vote, so bring distractions, sedatives (relax - I'm joking), whatever it takes to keep them quiet and well-behaved. No easy feat for parents of babies, toddlers, or otherwise rambunctious kids -- especially when the lines are long!

4) You can let your son or daughter cast your vote for you. Many parents do that as a way to get their kids even more involved in the process. And they love it!

5) If you're thinking about voting with your kids as a photo op, think again. Most states won't let you take cameras, video, or audio devices into the voting booth, and certainly won't let you photograph the ballot. So save the snapshots for before and after -- or you and the little ones will risk being kicked out.

6) For specific rules on voting with kids where you live, look up your state's voting guidelines online -- or call your local election commission. The League of Women Voters and other organizations also have some good information on the subject.

What's your take on voting with the kids -- yay or nay?


Image via mollypop/Flickr

2012 election, barack obama, white house, women's issues, polls, election, baby activities, kid activities, toddler activities


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marie... mariesmama

we're taking our 3 yr old, but we'll tag team watching her while the other votes

arlis... arliss123

I'm not too worried; I've never had to wait more than 30 seconds in line! Knock on wood.

purvi... purvislets

I have to take my 3-1/2 year old in the booth with me tomorrow.  He's been sick since last week so there was no way to do early voting while my husband could keep an eye on him.  Now that he's better, I'm just hoping that the line won't be too long so he will be on his best behavior!  I'm in a small county, so I'm going to go while most people are at work to avoid the crowds.

jalaz77 jalaz77

Absentee. I need to concentrate and not worry about my kids.

nonmember avatar NotAMom

I have fond memories of my mother taking me into the voting booth with her starting when I was about 5 (I am 30 now.) I remember that she'd already have everything picked out, and she'd let me cast her vote for her. She always seemed to go during non-busy voting hours, so I think if parents do want to take their children voting, and really take the time to explain everything and let them participate in the process, it's best to go at a non-busy time, if at all possible.

By the time I was old enough to vote myself, I was completely confident in how everything was expected to go. I actually did encounter an issue with a poll worker when I was about 20, but I was confident in my rights (and knowledge of how the process should go) that I didn't let that poll worker's issue affect me at all. Looking back, I think having been to the polls a number of times already helped me handle that negative experience with ease.

Tracys2 Tracys2

Yup. I used to do absentee (easy in CA), but NC makes it difficult.

We vote as a group (setting a good example!) all the time, but usually there are no lines, so it's lots of fun. This time, maybe not so much. My husband would normally be able to come home, but due to emergencies at work, we found out this afternoon he will not be able to this time.

We'll bring all sorts of entertainment. DS, Leapster, books, etc. They'll live. I'll probably tell them that if they don't learn to be patient in lines, there is no way they'll ever get to Disney (which is True! those lines are much worse than anything I anticipate tomorrow- the longest line for voting I can remember was 4 years ago, about 15 minutes)

My actual voting will be very quick. I've already gone through a sample ballot, so no thought required. It's just chance, because my youngest are 5 and 7, but I'm voting the same as they did in school :-)

Miche... Michellio

I always take my daughter. No one else to watch her. Not really a big deal!

Roxygurl Roxygurl

Any time I've tried to take any kid (mine or one I'm watching) in the booth with me they tell me I can't. This has happened several times since I've been old enough to vote and each time they stop me and tell me the kid isn't allowed in the booth with me.

Who would I contact about that?

nonmember avatar cct

I took my children with me in 2008 as it was a historical election. I also believe that exposing them to the voting process encourages them to vote once they are old enough.

Mommy... MommyGeek

Tomorrow I will be continuing a family tradition........My mom used to take me with her to vote when the poles opened and then she would give me her "I Voted" sticker to wear all day at school. I always loved it and this year my oldest dd is in kindergarten. She is so excited that she will get to wear my special sticker for school tomorrow that she doesn't even mind the fact that we have to get up extra early so we can get ready and be at the polling place by 7 am!

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