This quote by Susan B. Anthony is the heart of what I focus on when talking with students (or anyone) about voting. I want people to vote, and I want us all to take that responsibility seriously…which means being prepared and being thoughtful (full of thought) about who it is we are electing. Whether you are thinking about how to talk to students about voting…or your friends or neighbors or whomever…here are some great resources and things to consider. Don’t let Susan B. down.
With students, I usually start off with some perspective/opinion questions like “How do you define political engagement?” “What did your family teach you, directly or indirectly, about voting?” and, if I am feeling really brave, “Does your individual vote mean something? Explain”. Sometimes I have also given students the “homework” assignment to pick 5 people in their lives (friends, family members, co workers, etc) and ask them if they have voted in a local, state or federal election in the last two years and if they intend to vote in future elections. It is always interesting to hear them reflect on the reasons people give for voting or not voting.
One of the first practical things I do after we have some opening discussion is to make sure people know how, where, and when to register to vote if they are not already registered. This link provides information on voter registration processes for every state: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote and here is how you can find out information on deadlines for voting: https://www.usvotefoundation.org/vote/state-elections/state-election-dates-deadlines.htm For students, it is especially important to know what the absentee ballot deadlines are as well since many of them are not living in the state where they are registered to vote: https://www.vote.org/absentee-ballot-deadlines/
Once we have the basics covered, I make sure they know how to find out what the ballot is going to look like so that they can be prepared. If students are willing to enter their address, they can find out all the offices and issues that will be on their ballot: https://ballotpedia.org/Sample_Ballot_Lookup And it is always good to know where it is that you should be casting your vote: https://www.vote.org/polling-place-locator/
Stepping back to take a broader look, I also have students examine the major US party platforms, such as https://democrats.org/where-we-stand/party-platform/ and https://www.gop.com/the-2016-republican-party-platform/ and https://www.gp.org/platform and https://www.lp.org/platform/. Sometimes I have students review this outside of class, and ask them to look at how each party addresses issues related to poverty, immigration, public education and marginalization of women and members of diverse groups. Sometimes I break students into groups and have each group review the party platforms in search of answers. Some of the questions I have them answer are: What does the Democratic party say about cash assistance? What does the Republican party say about minimum wage? What do each of the parties say about the right of healthcare? What do each of the parties say about the needs of public education? The key thing is that students are reviewing the party platforms rather than other news sources, so that they can see what each party has to say about these issues “in their own words”.
Depending on how much time I am spending on the discussion of voting and what the objectives of the class are, I also show the electoral college map for the recent presidential election. You can find them from several different sources but you probably can’t find one more detailed than this from the 2016 presidential election: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/upshot/election-2016-voting-precinct-maps.html. Again depending on the objectives of the class, we may also look at voter turnout in recent local, state and national elections as well as patterns and trends of voter turnout according to age, gender, education level, and other demographics. This is a good beginning source to get at data by state and by some other demographics: http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout
Finally, another resource I share with students and interested others is this one, which allows you to see how your Congressperson voted on any bill on the House or Senate floor: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes It takes a little bit to learn to navigate fluidly but it is worth it.
I hope these resources are helpful to you as you think about voting and about encouraging others to vote!
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