By JOHN HOWELL Meg Splaine Carnaroli, who attended Robertson School, has plans to return to her alma mater on Election Day 2020. The school and her teacher Robert McGuire have special meaning for her. She credits McGuire with encouraging her to consider
Meg Splaine Carnaroli, who attended Robertson School, has plans to return to her alma mater on Election Day 2020. The school and her teacher Robert McGuire have special meaning for her. She credits McGuire with encouraging her to consider teaching as a career.
It’s a path she hasn’t regretted.
And now she is on a mission to encourage more people, especially parents with young children, to vote and to bring their kids to the polls.
Carnaroli, who lives with her family in Scituate, is the founder and director of Playtime at the Polls. The Warwick Board of Canvassers, the Cranston board and at least eight other municipal boards of election have approved the program designed to engage children in activities at the polls while their parents cast ballots.
Playtime at the Polls, a nonprofit organization that is dependent on donations and business sponsorships, trains volunteers to get kids to play with crayons, Play-Doh and a mock voting booth, all within the polling location. Playtime also does background checks on volunteers before having them work at a polling place.
Carnaroli looks to high school and middle school students, who will have the day off because it is Election Day, as potential volunteers.
“By creating a fun, educational space for children on Election Day, parents know that while they concentrate on their ballots, their kids will be occupied and learn about the electoral process, which creates the routine of going to the polls on Election Day,” Carnaroli said in a release.
Carnaroli launched the program on Election Day 2018 at polling locations in Scituate and Providence and has hopes of introducing it statewide and eventually across the country.
She compares the initiative to a “lollipop at the bank” that has made it easier for parents to bring along the kids when doing their banking.
There’s more to it. She hopes that exposing children to voting will educate them to the purpose of voting and have them encourage their parents to vote. She notes how children have become advocates of recycling and buckling up while driving, and suggests they might also lean on their parents to vote.
“We want kids who want to go [to the polls], who drag along their parents,” she said. Children participating in Playtime at the Polls will get a sticker like those who vote, only it will say, “Someone who loves me voted.”
McGuire, who had Carnaroli as a sixth-grade student, remembers her clearly.
“She probably could have run the classroom,” he said when told what she is doing now. He said in addition to a “passion for learning,” as a student Carnaroli was “wise beyond her years. She could express herself and that can be hard for even adults.”
In a twist that makes the story really Rhode Island, McGuire and Carnaroli’s father, David Splaine, were classmates at Hendricken High School.
Carnaroli said that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, people in their child-rearing years vote almost 25 percent less frequently than those over 65.
Playtime is offered at no cost to the host community.
Carnaroli ran her program by Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who endorsed it and provided her with a letter of support. But as Carnaroli discovered, it’s up to the local board of canvassers or board of elections to approve it. She has been visiting the local boards and her goal is to have the program in at least one polling location in every Rhode Island municipality.
She estimated the cost of materials and insurance at $400 per polling location.
Carnaroli said Cranston became the first community to partner with Playtime when they signed up in February.
Carnaroli was a full-time teacher but now is “a half stay-at-home mom” and the Christian education director at her church. The Carnarolis have two children.
Once her children are older, she would like to return to the classroom – but then, who knows? She may find herself spending more time to get people to exercise their right to vote.