A powerful future voting bloc – some of whom still play with blocks – gathered for a political rally Saturday that made child’s play of the election system.
Dozens of children and their parents came to the main Durham County Library to fill out a ballot in the Kids Voting booth, or to craft political buttons, noise makers and flags. Later, they marched across the corner to the county board of elections office to celebrate the first Saturday of early voting, in advance of the primary election March 15.
The Family Voting Party and Parade, now in its seventh year, was sponsored by five local nonprofits: Kids Voting Durham; N.C. MomsRising; Durham Association of Educators; You Can Vote; and Lango Kids RTP.
The idea behind the event is that voting is a good habit that should be cultivated in children the same as healthful eating and doing homework on time.
“It’s important from an early age for them to see that they can make a difference,” said Martha Arango, a volunteer with MomsRising who brought her 8-year-old daughter Emilia to the event. Emilia is a natural, her mother said.
“She’s very opinionated. She’s very interested in the whole process. She gets in the car and she wants to listen to NPR,” her mother said.
Arango, who has an architectural design business, is a native of Colombia who moved to the United States 16 years ago. She became a citizen in 2012 so she could vote in that year’s election and is happy that her daughter won’t wait so long to get involved.
Voting with their feet
During the event, participants played a game in which an organizer gathered everyone in the center of the room. She asked a series of yes-or-no questions the children answered by moving to the left or the right to position themselves around someone holding a “yes” or “no” sign.
As often happens in politics, one question resulted in a generational divide.
“Should bedtime be earlier?” the mediator asked.
The crowd split along party lines, with the children hoping to stay up and party.
While those questions were rhetorical – no politician can reduce the amount of homework children are assigned or adjust their bedtimes – the event also celebrated those young people who will be able to vote for the first time this year for real candidates who affect real policies.
Shirley Garrett, a 17-year-old senior at Durham School of the Arts, will be eligible to vote in the general election in November. She addressed the crowd in the library’s courtyard before the group marched over to the board of elections office chanting, “Hi-ho, hi-ho, off to vote we go.” The Research Triangle Charter Academy’s marching band led the way.
Once there, voters, and future voters, could shake hands with local politicians, including two members of the Durham County Board of Commissioners and one member of the county school board.
The school board member, Natalie Beyer, lamented recent changes by state legislators that she said made it more cumbersome for first-time voters to register. To counter the effect, she said, volunteers had helped register 1,100 new voters in the county schools in the past month.
Early voting: What you need to know
Early voting in North Carolina’s primary elections runs through March 12.
The March primary will decide who makes it to the Nov. 8 general election in races for president, governor, U.S. Senate, General Assembly, attorney general, lieutenant governor and other state and local contests. Voters in the primary will also cast ballots in a $2 billion bond referendum.
Since a court decision led the state to redraw maps for North Carolina’s 13 U.S. House of Representatives districts, the primary for those has been postponed to June 7, pending legal challenges. Early voting for that primary will be May 26 to June 4. Those congressional races will still be listed on the March 15 ballots, but those votes alone probably won’t count. The State Board of Elections, however, asks people to go ahead and vote in every race in March’s primary – even the U.S. House races – as a precaution.
When do I need to register to vote?
If you haven’t already registered to vote, you can vote during the early voting period using same-day registration. But you won’t be able to cast a ballot on March 15, since the registration deadline for voting on primary day has passed. Although a 2013 state law eliminated same-day registration, it’s still legal during early voting, pending an ongoing court case.
Where do I vote?
To find your polling place, look up your address at vt.ncsbe.gov/pollingplace_search/ or inquire with your county’s board of elections. People can vote at any open polling place in their county during early voting. If you vote on March 15, you must go to your assigned precinct. Click on the following links to find the early voting sites in Wake, Durham, Orange, Chatham and Johnston counties.
What about voter ID?
Anyone who shows up to vote without photo identification will be able to cast a provisional ballot. For more information, see nando.com/voterid.
What options do unaffiliated voters have in a primary?
Members of a political party must vote in their party’s primary, but unaffiliated voters may choose which party’s primary to vote in.
Staff writer Will Doran