Friday, November 29, 2002

Don't confuse kids on voting ...

Remember kindergarten?

No, this isn't going to be another column with my life story in it. You don't need to go through that again. And neither do I.

But, do you?

I remember crayons and tying my shoes and all sorts of fun stuff.

I don't remember voting. I'm fairly certain I didn't vote.

My 5-year old daughter Emily, however, voted for the first time two weeks ago. The same day you and I went to the polls, Emily cast a ballot voting in three races — the governor, comptroller and attorney general races — and on three propositions.

Let me begin by saying how ├╝ber-cool it is that Emily got to vote.

The group that created, passed out and tallied the ballots — Kids Voting Western New York — said it's looking to increase voter participation in adults by inspiring people to start young.

It's a great idea and I applaud the dozen or so groups that fund the organization.

However, (you thought that was a happy column?) if you're going to do something, do it right.

The proposals that I mentioned should not have been voted upon by 5-year-olds like my daughter. They were designed for her, though, according to the ballot.

After her six questions, in fact, it said, "Grades K-2 Stop Here."

The first proposal was innocuous enough in my opinion — although I have heard some people complain about it: "Should the words 'under God' be eliminated from the Pledge of Allegiance?"

I can understand how to some children this will have meaning and they will give a resounding "no." Now, Emily didn't have good reasoning for this, but she too voted no.

The second proposal asked, "Should the New York State Education Department revise its high school graduation criteria?"

I asked Emily if she understood the question. She said she did.

"It means, 'Do you think the high school graduated?' " she told me.

Fair enough. I'm not sure I know what the question really means either, and I've covered five different school boards over the past 2 1/2 years.

The final question was my favorite: "Does the current method of funding offer all students the opportunity to meet New York State standards?"

Emily said yes.

I asked why.

"'Cause the high school kids are big," she said.

Huh?

I asked her if she knew what funding was. She said no.

I asked her what New York State standards were.

"They're things that stand up on an island in New York," she answered, matter-of-factly.

If only that were true, Emily.

These kids will learn politics' stupidities soon enough. Questions about state education funding need not be posed to kindergartners. Not to mention, doesn't simply asking the question — especially at such a young age — poison their minds? I don't send Emily to school to be propagandized into believing that state leaders don't give enough for her education.

Also, I understand that the voting process was rather chaotic — almost Florida-esque with long lines and what have you — potentially turning off potential life-long voters before their prime.

Maybe next year, kids should vote in their classes?

On a side note, I had heard ahead of time that she would be voting, but she and I really didn't talk about who she would vote for. I didn't want her to vote for someone just because daddy did.

As it turns out, though, Emily voted for the same three people that her father did — Golisano for governor, Havesi for comptroller and Spitzer for attorney general.

I asked her why.

She said because she had heard her mother and I talking about them.

That made me realize A) that I'm not as quiet as I think I am, B) maybe she listens to me better than I give her credit for and C) the propaganda method the educators use actually works.

Emily also told me that many parents of the kids in her class didn't let their children vote because they didn't have time or didn't want to wait in line.

That's a shame.

Finally, I was going to further show Emily the true importance of voting by asking her which member of the family should make all the decision for the next month or something.

But I scrapped that plan in fear that she'd pick the dog — or worse, her mother.