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American women voting for the first time
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Starter Activities

The following adaptable classroom activities suggest various approaches for introducing and/or extending learning related to voting.

Who Votes? Voter Participation Trends
The November 2, 2002 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast features a democracy roundtable discussion on a variety of issues. (Note: A free transcript of this discussion is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS.) As part of the dialogue, the roundtable panelists point out that voting has declined in certain groups. What is the reason for this decrease? What segments of the population tend to vote more consistently? Have students form groups and choose a segment of society to research. Groups should study voting trends for this group over the last 20 years and create bar graphs to present their findings. In an accompanying narrative, students should explain the trends and then recommend strategies for increasing voter turnout among their respective groups. Sources for students could include public officials, advocacy groups, and vote-related organizations. The following Web resources also provide good information:

Moving From a Two-Party Nation
As a democracy, the United States supports and promotes the development of different political parties. However, in most popular elections, the Republican and Democratic parties dominate. How many parties actually exist? How are they created and supported? In what ways does the structure of our nation's political system limit or support other political parties? Guide students in developing a background on our nation's party system, with a look at the electoral process and how parties are formed. Have students begin by naming political parties with which they are familiar. Assign each party named to a pair of students, and then ask pairs without a party identity to claim one in the course of research. Be sure there isn't any duplication of parties among the pairs. Then, have each team research their party in greater depth to document when and how the party began, its typical membership, its political agenda, how it has fared in local, state, and national elections, whether any candidates have emerged who bring attention to the party, and how much public support it receives (or, more specifically, how it runs its fundraising efforts). Some helpful resources include:

Student pairs can fill their party's data in on a class chart to be used for comparison and to determine what the common elements are among third parties that make it difficult for them to be better recognized by the public, especially during elections. As an extension, students can create a new political party and walk it through a mock process of becoming a bona-fide government entity.

Cleaning Up Elections: Campaign Finance Reform
The November 2, 2002 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast features an in-depth report on "clean election laws" in Arizona. (Note: A free transcript of this segment is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS.) The report explains that Arizona put these "clean election laws" in place to reform how political leaders raise and spend monies during election periods. While a handful other states have established similar laws, significant national debate about the legality and practicality of these measures remains. Help students explore issues related to "clean election laws" by staging a debate. Begin by providing students with background information on campaign finance reform. Watching (or reading) the NOW segment on Arizona's efforts is a good place to start. Students can then conduct additional research to identify both the pro and con arguments associated with "clean elections". Some useful resources:

To start the debate, divide the class equally into pro and con groups. Encourage each student to assume the role of an actual or fictitious person who supports their group's point of view and argue issues from that perspective.

Comparing Global Election Systems
How different and similar are elections around the world? What role does democracy play in global voting processes? Invite students to address these questions as they research, compare and contrast voting systems worldwide. Students could work in small groups to focus on a country or region, or each student could select a nation to research independently. The following resources may be helpful for student research:

Have students share their findings and then, as a class, identify commonly shared issues among the nations. Ask students to reflect on what they've discovered and then design an ideal election system that could be replicated in nations around the world.

About the Author
Michele Israel has been an educator in varied capacities for over 20 years. As founder and director of Educational Consulting Group, Israel currently serves non-profit and educational institutions, providing services including strategic planning, curriculum development, and project management, produces learning materials and writes articles for companies such as the Public Broadcasting Service, Education World, and CNN/Turner Learning.

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