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