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Voting is like doing a science experiment

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child

February 08, 2008|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

At dinner the other night we were talking about the election.

My 12-year-old shook his head and said, "I just don't feel like I know enough about the candidates."

I smiled, thinking that most of the voting public probably feels the same way.

Perhaps we'd know a little more if the candidates would stick to the issues and stop attacking each other. But since that will never happen, we'll need to take the time to dig a little deeper, so we'll know how to cast our votes.

The conversation shifted from the candidates to how we vote in a primary election. We explained to our children that as residents of Maryland, we'll be voting Tuesday, Feb. 12.

In a primary election, voters select candidates from their own political party, and sometimes vote on issues or candidates in non-partisan contests, such as school board races.

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Our children wanted to know how people decide to register for a particular party. Many times, teens will register for the same political party as their parents. My husband and I both registered to vote when we were 18. That seems like a lifetime ago, and our outlook has changed a bit.

We explained that, as people grow older, sometimes they decide to change their political party affiliation.

How do you know what candidate to elect? When our kids asked that, I compared it to a science experiment. Before you start the experiment, you draw on the knowledge you have and formulate a hypothesis, an educated guess.

You don't really know if a candidate is going to do all he or she promises. You just have to select the candidates who seem to best align with your priorities and values.

In a presidential primary, the winning candidate in a political party is awarded all or most of that state's delegates for that party's national convention; delegates meet at the party convention later in the year to elect their nominee. So the candidate who wins most of the nation's primaries probably will be nominated at the convention as that party's choice for president.

On the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the presidential general election will take place. The party nominees campaign against each other until then.

The general election is different from the primary in Maryland because, in a general election, people can vote outside their political party. A registered Democrat voter can choose a Republican candidate, or vice versa. This year the general election will be on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Our son says he doesn't want to wait six years in order to vote.

I remember feeling that way in junior high, during the year Jimmy Carter was elected president. I intensely wanted to vote in 1976. It was an exciting year for me as I learned about our country's electoral process.

I was intrigued then to learn that a presidential candidate could receive more votes than an opponent and still not be elected. That was a difficult concept to grasp.

This can happen because the president is actually selected by the electoral college. The electoral college consists of a group of electors who generally cast their votes for the candidate who received the most votes in their state. Each state has the same number of electors as it does members of Congress. States with large populations have the advantage here because they have more electoral college votes.

That's why many of the candidates focus on the states that can give them the most electoral votes. Even so, political candidates assure us that every citizen's vote counts. I choose to believe that.

The polls in Maryland will be open for voting from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Be a good example. Exercise your right to vote.

For more information, contact the State Board of Elections at 800-222-VOTE (8683) or www.elections.state.md.us.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com

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