Polling Day

Sign from a polling station

Last week my son Harry drew France in a Euro 2016 class sweepstake. For homework he was asked to find out five facts about France. So off to Google we went and as I was reading out interesting snippets of information from a children’s travel facts website, Harry stopped me. ‘What does that mean, mum?’ he asked when I read, ‘France is a democracy’.

I told him France is a democratic country just like the United Kingdom, where we live. I explained how we all come together to vote and choose who makes the important decisions about how our country is run. I emphasised the importance of exercising our right to vote and how people fought and died so that I as a woman have that right today. I told him there are countries in the world where people still do not have a right to participate in decision making and how lucky we are to live in a country where we do.

Then I explained we would be making one of the biggest decisions we will probably make in our lifetime on the following Thursday when we voted on whether to remain in the European Union or not. I told him how important the decision was and that it would have a significant bearing on the type of country he would grow up in. ‘Why can’t I vote then?’ he asked. ‘You have to be 18 to vote,’ I replied. ‘But you can come with me and watch me vote if you like.’

So after school pick-up this afternoon I took Harry to the polling station. We queued - for the first time - I’ve never seen such a turn out in our village - then handed over my polling card. Harry watched as the polling staff crossed my name off the list and handed me a ballot paper. We took it to a booth and I read it out to him. Then he picked up the pencil and handed it to me. I marked the cross in the appropriate box and folded the slip of paper in half. ‘Can I post it?’ he asked as we approached the black ballot box. ‘Yes,’ I replied and he proudly pushed it through the slot.

I am not sure that Harry really understood the significance of our visit to the polling station today. How could he? The complexity of the issues surrounding this referendum have been baffling the adult world for months. However, I am glad I invited him to participate and to witness such an important part of history in the making. A democracy only truly works if the citizens that comprise it actively participate. I hope I managed to communicate to Harry how vital it is to get actively involved and how lucky we are to have that right.