It’s one of those simple questions kids ask that can leave us fumbling for an answer. We all have our reasons, but they are not necessarily stored in a compact and easily accessible linguistic form.
To prep my own answer, I found it helpful to peruse a group of letters collected by Bob Brody, the New Yorker behind “Letters to My Kids.”
He asked parents across the country to answer the question in a letter to their child. Several of the responses are posted here in full, each of them with different reasoning, each of them with insights that may be worth sharing in our own homes.
An overall similarity, Brody said, was that parents tended to explain voting as a civic duty.
Then there was the “underlying takeaway” of many letters. “Several parents paid tribute to immigrant ancestors who never had the right to vote, and to countries around the world where citizens still go without it. One parent referred to voting as a means of honoring American soldiers who died protecting our freedoms,” Brody said
Here’s a sampling:
“Reason 1: I vote because my great-grandparents couldn’t. Back in Russia, our ancestors had no say in how their country was run,” Los Angeles writer Kenneth Miller wrote to his 9- and 13-year-old.
“If government policies led to unwise military adventures, discrimination against minorities (for example, Jewish people like us), or widespread poverty and famine, the only thing ordinary folks could do about it — short of starting a revolution — was to move somewhere else. My grandparents’ parents came to America with their children, leaving everything they knew behind, because it was a place where people could control their own destiny. The ability to vote was a major part of that. It’s a gift they passed down to me, and I’ll always cherish it.
“Reason 2: I vote because I want the world to be a better place for you kids. The people we elect today will make decisions — about the environment, about the economy, about how we relate to other nations — whose consequences will be felt for years to come.”
New Yorker Cynthia Ramnarace wrote to her 5- and 8-year-old, “Think about the Americans who have given their lives so you can get an ‘I Voted!’ sticker. Think about people in new democracies who stand in line for hours to get to the ballot box. Think about the people in the world who have no vote, and consider what that means for their lives. Think about how proud that sticker would make them.”
Writing of her first vote at age 18, Alexandra Owens of New Jersey wrote to her 10- and 13 year-old, “from that point forward I felt a part of the national conversation — a member of ‘the people,’ a person whose opinion counted. I haven’t missed an election since, because to do so would be to give up my voice.”
And, one of my favorites came from another New Jersey mother, Michele C. Hollow, who wrote to her 11-year-old:
“Plain and simple, you lose your right to complain if you don’t vote.”
Why do you vote? Have you told your kids?