With the Presidential election of 2012 about to launch into national relevance, the topic of American elections is becoming increasing important to address in the classroom. I have found myself touching on the topic in both my US History I class and my Sociology class. Civics and voter participation are topics that transcend all areas of social studies.
A lesson about American elections should begin with a question to the class: how important is to vote in America today? Most students generally consider voting to be a privilege that they do not have yet, and therefore have not put much thought into.
Last year during a HC seminar on the right to vote, we were shown an image of the election of 1852. The picture made voting day out to be a celebration, with people drinking and bringing their families. Politicians engaged on a personal level with voters, even feet from the ballot box. The picture really got me thinking, how much has voting and pride in civic responsibility changed since then?
In my US History I classes, I put two pictures on the board, one of the election of 1852, and another of present day voting procedure. Lining them up, I asked each student to draw several conclusions about each, and then to compare the two. The results were striking, indicating that modern day voting is less a celebration and more a chore that people don’t love, but might feel guilty about not doing. The lines, sterile environment, and lack of good natured campaigning sucks much of the excitement out of the institution of exercising your voice in a Democratic system. I then asked my students the pros and cons of the voting procedure in both pictures. While one fails to generate excitement, it did help to provide a fair and uncorrupted result.
Upon completion of the compare and contrast exercise, I then proposed a statistic to my students that only 40% of all eligible voters between the ages of 18-24 actually vote. Immediately afterwards, my students began to brainstorm how to bring interest and excitement back into Election Day. To key was to attract more voters to the polls, not to have a party. With that in mind, students engaged in an open discussion about how to achieve this elusive goal of increasing voter participation.