Confessions of a Lawbreaker

by Deb Lewis

We're mugs. We're malefactors. We're reprobates.

My son Dylan has been voting for years. According to the Twenty sixth Amendment he doesn't have the right to vote until he's eighteen years old, but we amended that amendment, at least in our own minds.

When my kid wanted to vote I took him with me to the polls, and there, in the privacy of the voting booth, I handed him my ballot and pencil. And if that wasn't wicked enough, we did it again in subsequent elections.

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
So, a citizen can be too young to vote but can't be too old to vote. That'd be good news for my mom, if she could remember what day to go to the polls, or how to drive, or how to vote.

Of course I see the difference. Old age doesn't equal impairment. Impairment doesn't necessarily come from old age. To assign an age where someone is too old to make good decisions or to be a useful part of society is age discrimination. To assign an age where someone is too young to be useful or make good decisions is just government. What's so hard to understand about that?

But my son had a problem. He wanted to vote. And while I can see the incongruity of circumventing a law out of a desire to take on a civic duty, my more pressing concern was helping my son.

It wasn't really hard to find a solution to my son's problem of wanting to vote. As unschoolers we have a lot of experience finding ways to get to what we want. We're good at problem solving. When my son didn't want to go to school, we found a way for him to stay home. That wasn't hard or illegal, but it was outside the mainstream enough to raise some eyebrows. Now after all these years outside the mainstream I'm fairly frothing with zeal at the sight of a raised eyebrow.

It's my goal to help my son get what he wants. That's my focus and the foundation of our unschooling adventure together. I see myself as his facilitator, someone to make his progress easier. I could have told him there was nothing we could do about this particular problem, but I don't want him to simply accept what comes along. I want him to have examples of hope and attainment. It's an important skill to be able to find creative solutions to problems.

Initially we talked of getting the constitution amended and decided that seemed grandiose and not immediately helpful. Even if we could have presented the most convincing argument for lowering or abolishing the voting age, a change would have taken so much time that my son would have been well able to vote by then anyway. Collecting signatures for ballot measures and writing to representatives helped us feel like we were taking action but wasn't productive. The one thing that would solve the problem would be voting. And when it finally occurred to me to simply give my son my vote, it seemed wholly right, the way it seems right to give a friend the last cookie at tea time or to give my husband half of my Popsicle. It's good to share. Aren't parents always saying that?

I read once about a homeschooling mom who had her kid vote as a kind of social studies lesson. She coached the kid how to vote and impressed the kid with the dark and weighty responsibility to the rest of the nation if he or she made a poor choice. My son's voting experience hasn't been anything like that. In 2000 when we had seven candidates running for president, Dylan knew plenty about each candidate, about their party and the party platform, about their running mates and their history. He was appalled that year when a group of adult men in front of us at the polls looked at their ballots and said, "Who are all these guys?"

Dylan had taken the time to gather a lot of information and had been interested enough to retain it. He'd read through our state's voter information pamphlet multiple times and knew every measure and initiative on the ballot. He was eight years old. He very obviously didn't need to be told how to vote, and he didn't need or want a civics lesson. The election judges gave him a ballot that he could mark and save if he wanted to. I marked his ballot and he marked mine. One went into the garbage and one went into the box. He voted differently than I would have, and I found that fascinating in the light of claims that young voters tend to vote like their parents. And that seemed to me more evidence that unschooling encourages independent thinking and self confidence.

So, we're excited about the candidates and the debates and the hoopla as we approach another election year. We delight in the psychology of politics and the politics of psychology. We can't wait to see who'll get the nominations and which parties will be on the ballot. And when Election Day comes, we'll furtively slide into the voting booth and commit our villainy. My son will get what he wants: the opportunity to vote. I will get what I want—to help my son achieve his goals. Our nation will get, well, its forty-fourth President.

editor's note: These photos are lifted from public places
and do not portray the author or her son
but are related only vaguely .

This was first published (without the slideshow) in Connections e-zine, Issue 7, June 2007.
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