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How to vote

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November 13, 2014 by Dadinator

There’s a queue. Always a queue. I’m waiting in it while The Mamanator guards our pack – the two children are with her. The Lad is running around a playground while The Lass pushes herself up to stand, waddles 10 steps and then decides the ground is a better place to be.

I shuffle along, as The Mamanator did 10 minutes earlier, moving towards the trestle table in the hall. On it sits an enormous book, a list of name upon name upon name. I know my name is in there and when I approach the desk I give it to the folk behind the table and watch them rule a thin black line through my details to say that I’ve been taken care of.

They hand me papers and a pencil, motion me towards a row of cardboard booths that remind me of a street of terrace houses, and show me what boxes to number. I go into my secluded booth and write some numbers in some boxes. I’ll see some names I recognise, some I don’t, but I do my best to number them, fold it up neatly and place it in the receptacle so it can fly away to be processed.

And for some reason I’ve just written an event in the future as though it was a memoir.

That’s how I imagine it’ll go in 2 weeks when I vote in Victoria’s state election. And sure I’ll complain about it. 2 party system, no major points of difference, no party that I feel truly represents me and I’ll complain that the electoral system doesn’t change anything.

But this time it will be different. This election is the first time I’ll be voting in front of my children, who at the ripe young ages of 1 and 3 will get their first little look at representative democracy in action.

I started to develop a keen interest in how parental politics influence children’s future voting habits all of the sudden because feeling responsible for their food, safety, warmth, cleanliness, intellectual development, character, morality and all the rest wasn’t enough. No, I wanted to reflect on how I might effect my children’s attitudes to politics and civics.

Apathy is on the rise. More and more people in Australian vote informally (over 5% of ballots cast in last years federal election were informal, the highest rate in 30 years). Membership bases of political parties are falling, and I worry about it. I worry because I think that it lets our politicians get away with more. I worry because it moves discussion away from substance and into 20 second news grabs and quotes. It reduces the depth of our engagement with our own country and lowers the standard of politicians, politics and debate.

To quote a yank: “A properly functioning democracy depends on an informed electorate” (Jefferson apparently).

So what are parents role in all this? I started looking at the Electoral Commissions reports into youth attitudes to political culture and voting in Australia. I wasn’t interested in whether kids voted for the party of their parents (although it’s worth noting that a lot do), but rather looking at where kids growing up get their information and perceptions about politics and about the voting process. And guess where it comes from chiefly: PARENTS! Yay!

For all my moaning and carrying on, I like voting. I like that our leaders are elected and I am grateful for the fact that I live in a country where the populace can sack the government (or even just the individual member) if they are unhappy with them. I am well aware of the fact that it isn’t that simple, that preference deals have led to people getting into the Federal Senate of about 0.51% of the popular vote. I know the senate election paper can almost reach to the moon and back these days. I know the system is not perfect, but it’s at least consistent, independent and scrutinised to within an inch of its life. I also like that it’s compulsory.

So while of course I’ll bitch and moan about politics and politicians (we all have that right too) I want to instil a sense in my children that voting is a good thing to do, as is exercising some control over the politics of our own land. I want them to see what is involved, to see politicians campaigning for their seat, fighting for their communities and giving locals a voice. I want to take my kids to “meet the candidate” nights when they are older and local party debates. I want them to be able to name their local member, because that’s the point of the Westminster system. And I want them to watch Anthony Green spend hours getting very excited about a whole lot of numbers on election night because their dad is actually a bit of an election geek too….

Talking about politics is years away yet, but honestly it’s something I’m looking forward to doing. Does that make me weird? I also really want to end this post by saying “Yes we can”….

(Yay did it).

Is this something other parents think about? Have you taken your kids to the booths with you? What was it like?

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