It’s that time again—election season! This fall, voters across the country will head to the polls to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. While the presidential election years get the most press coverage, the elections that occur at the halfway point of a presidential term, a.k.a. the midterms, are equally important. We’ll not only be deciding who represents us in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, but also who will be representing us on the state and local levels, such as the attorney general, county and city officers, and school board members.
As a nonprofit organization, there are certain rules and regulations we need to follow surrounding the elections—read more about them in our electioneering guidelines—but that shouldn’t stop us from encouraging our girls to participate in the democratic process. Not sure how to present the sometimes-even-complicated-for-adults electoral process (and keep it fun and interesting) to your troop? Read on for some ways to continue Girl Scouts’ long history of civic engagement and get your girls involved this election cycle—and beyond.
Start Them Early
Though the legal voting age in the U.S. is 18, there are still plenty of ways girls can act as positive change agents before ever casting their first vote! Girl Scouts know that their point of view matters, and when they see something that needs to be fixed, they work together to repair it. Every law, after all, begins with an idea. (Need a little refresher on how a bill becomes a law? Thanks, Schoolhouse Rock!)
Encourage girls to find out who represents them in the local government, and then write to elected officials with their concerns—a main part of a politician’s job is to listen to their constituents! Psst—here are a few pointers on how to draft a letter to your lawmakers.
If girls are unsure about what issue they could advocate for, you can use the three steps in the Girl Scout Leadership Experience—Discover, Connect, Take Action—as a framework to help girls create change in their community. For example, ask: What around them do they notice that could be better? Who is already working on this problem, or whom can they collaborate with to amplify their voices? How can they alleviate this issue? Refer to Girl Scouts of the USA’s Civic Action Toolkit for even more ideas.
Know Your Facts
Research shows that Americans fall short in terms of basic civic knowledge. This lack of understanding of American history and the government eventually leads to a decline in participation in the political process—that means fewer citizens voting, campaigning, and running for office. A healthy democracy is based on an informed populace. In response to the decline in civic education, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor created iCivics, an online resource chockfull of interactive games and materials to teach kids about the ins-and-outs of government. Girls can try their hand at controlling all three branches of government, or find out more about the path to becoming a citizen.
Dive into History
This upcoming election will mark the 98th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when women won the right to vote. What we think as an inalienable right was not so for many groups of people throughout history. Connecting the privilege that many people take for granted today to the long struggle that brought us here is a great way to reinforce the importance of participating in democracy and voting in elections. With your girls, read up on the history of voter rights (including the Suffragette Movement, the Snyder Act of 1924, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the 26th Amendment). If there’s a local chapter of the League of Women Voters in your area or another organization who works to increase voter registration and turnout, see how you and your girls can volunteer to get out the vote.
Elections only occur once every few years, but the civic duties that girls learn and practice outside of the election season pave the way to a lifelong process of raising their voices to make the world a better place.
Lily Yu – Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time by leading her daughter’s Daisy troop (who’s more excited to work on petals and Journeys—it could go either way!). In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family.