Commentary & Analysis

Approval Voting Advocacy: Not Just for Grown-Ups!

Tammy and Caleb

When he’s not playing basketball or doing his social studies homework, you’re likely to find Caleb, a twelve-year-old St. Louis resident, helping gather signatures to get approval voting on the ballot.

“I think this would make more people’s votes count.” Caleb said about approval voting. “There’s a bigger incentive for people to actually go vote. They know their vote will actually matter.”

So how did a twelve-year-old get involved with the movement for fairer, more representative elections in the first place?

Caleb’s mom Tammy explained that many young people select a community service project to support, either with time or money, in recognition of becoming a Bar Mitzvah (boy) or Bat Mitzvah (girl). Because Caleb’s Bar Mitzvah is just two months before the presidential election, he wanted to do something related to voting rights.

Caleb and Tammy learned about the effort to empower St. Louis voters with approval voting from Benj Singer⁠—one of the leaders of STL Approves and also a member of their synagogue. Once they learned more about approval voting and how it would help their city, Caleb and Tammy decided that it was the perfect cause to support.

“I first was interested in registering people to vote. I thought that was the most important thing,” Caleb said. “But I learned that even if many more people register to vote, it doesn’t help if the system is set up for those votes not to matter.”

Tammy also saw the value in approval voting. 

“Since we moved back to St. Louis from the East Coast 6 years ago, I’ve seen divisions among the neighborhoods in St. Louis, and the challenges that come with that division, more acutely,” Tammy said. “Seeing that there is an opportunity for St. Louis city voters to feel their votes really do matter and that their representatives are more accountable to them is really important to me.”

Since he began the project, Caleb has gone out to help his mom collect signatures five times. They’ve collected about 175 signatures, with a goal to gather at least 350.

It’s a lot of work, Caleb noted. But it’s also rewarding. “Once we start getting signatures, it’s a lot of fun. It’s fun talking to people, explaining what approval voting is, and knowing that what we’re doing is making a difference.”

His mom has been proud to see Caleb work hard on this important cause and also thinks that this volunteer opportunity has offered an important lesson for her son.

Democracy is hard work. As a parent, I hope that he’s beginning to see all the important steps. The hardest steps are often the ones that are required to make worthwhile change.”

If Caleb can do it, you can, too! If you’re local to St. Louis, check out the STL Approves website to learn how you can volunteer with the campaign. If not, consider making a donation to The Center for Election Science to support our work empowering voters across the US with approval voting.

This article was a collaboration between Kirsten Elliott and Caitlyn Alley Peña.