The Right to Vote
Make your class's study of the election process meaningful by having students persuade adult voters to go to the polls. This activity can be done before the primaries in your state or before the general election.
Duration: about 30 minutes (older students will need an additional 20 minutes for the research involved in step 3)
Objectives: Students will be able to discuss changes in voting rights throughout American history.
Students will be able to identify why voting is an important right.
Materials: poster board, markers
Set Up and Prepare: none
- Ask students to discuss why candidates send out so many fliers, visit so many cities, and spend so much money on TV ads. The candidates know that every vote counts—every voter who goes to the polls can help them win the presidency. Explain that unfortunately, some adult voters forget this fact. In the 2004 presidential election, only 60 percent of eligible voters actually voted.
- Ask students to define the term "eligible voter." Do they know who may vote in this country? (American citizens age 18 and over who are not in prison, on probation, or on parole can vote.) Explain that this has not always been the case. In colonial times (in most colonies), only adult white males who owned property could vote!
- Have older students go on a scavenger hunt to learn more about voting rights. Divide students into small groups, and assign each group one of the following years. Have the group look in books or search online sources to find out what happened to voting rights in that year:
- 1870: (The 15th Amendment says that no state can take away a citizen's right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Before that, many states did not allow African-Americans to vote.)
- 1920: (The 19th Amendment grants women the right to vote.)
- 1966: (Poll taxes, which were often used to keep African-Americans from voting, are declared unconstitutional.)
- 1971: (The 26th Amendment lowers the voting age from 21 to 18.)
- 1975: (All literacy requirements for voting are ended.) Make a time line to highlight these hard-earned changes in voting rights.
- Ask students to discuss why so many Americans choose not to vote. What would they say to adults to convince them to exercise this right? Then, distribute the poster board and markers and have students create posters urging eligible voters to go to the polls. Point out that the goal of the poster is not to persuade voters to vote a certain way, but to persuade them to vote for whoever they think is the best candidate. Encourage students to use catchy phrases and slogans to grab attention.
- As the primaries or general election approach, get permission to display the posters in your local library, community center, or lobby/hallways of your school.
Students may wish to create voting bookmarks instead of or in addition to the posters. Students can give the bookmarks out to family members and neighbors.
Grade students on their performance on the voting-rights scavenger hunt as well as their finished posters. Make sure all students in the group have contributed equally by asking students to submit brief reports outlining what they did.
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