Children get civics lesson tagging along at the polls

You weren't counted in the official voter turnout, Jason, Jonathan and Andrea, but you sure made your presence felt at the voting booth Tuesday. Welcome to civic duty.

You turned out in force at the polls, kids, strapped into strollers, dragged behind the mystery curtain or begging to pull the magic lever as your distracted parents weighed the fate of the nation.


For lots of voting parents, leaving the kids at home wasn't an option this election. The daily trip to the baby sitter's included a stop at the polls, and little Katie came along for the ride. As long as Katie was 5 or under she was allowed into the voting booth, according to state law, though enforcement of the statute varied.

But many parents wanted their children to have a front-row seat for history in the making. Some kids, of course, were front and center. Chelsea Clinton, the president-elect's daughter, accompanied her dad into the voting booth. Even on prime time, Murphy Brown's infant son got into the act Monday when his mom made a mad -- to the polls, baby in tow.


The underage voter turnout wasn't simply a matter of overachiever parents pushing their children, either. The kids themselves were genuinely interested, according to a sampling of parents interviewed Wednesday.

Most schools held their own elections, for one thing, increasing children's awareness and sense of participation. And if you want a number to gauge their level of interest, try this one: When Nickelodeon, the children's cable channel, held a three-hour "call-in" election, 500,000 kids called in. But 12 million tried to get through, according to AT&T; measurements provided to Nickelodeon. (President-elect Clinton squeaked by with 284,334; President Bush came in second with 284,048; and Mr. Perot got a respectable 180,295).

Many parents said their kids actually begged to see how a real vote is taken.

Roger Howell, of Baltimore, inadvertently caused a family crisis when he voted before picking up Timothy, 10, and Kimberly, 7, after school. The kids had expected to go with him and "had a fit," said hiswife, Bonnie.

"He ended up taking them back over to the polls and taking them in to show them the sample machine and the sample ballot and everybody in line and how the whole procedure goes," she said. "When I got up this morning the first thing the kids wanted to know was who won."

Christine Brennan, of Catonsville, voted with Matthew, 6, Nicholas, 4, and Andrea, 2. "I could've actually found somebody to watch them while I went," she said. "I just thought it would be good for them to be part of it. We have been talking about it a lot and they've been talking about it at school. My 6-year-old had a mock election at Tiger Cubs. I just thought it would be fun for them to actually go and see how it works.

"They were surprised at the number of people and intrigued by the levers and going into this box and asked why the curtain came closed behind you. I had the littlest one in a stroller and the two of them stood on either side and I said, 'just don't talk to me so I don't make a mistake.' "

Jamie Phillips, 5, is a bit young to understand everything about the election, but her aunt, Sheila Phillips-Major, of Baltimore, wanted to start her out right. "I figured if she starts early and sees how easy it is, when she gets older she'll vote," Ms. Phillips said. "She understood. She asked me why I picked the candidate that I did. I told her you want to make sure your mother and father still work so you can still go to the movies, so they can buy you food and pay the mortgage.


"My parents said, 'Always vote. If you don't vote you can't complain about anything.' "