Lessons: Voter Suppression

We’ve collected some of our favorite 9-12 resources and lessons for teaching about voter suppression and how it shapes elections today. 

These TT-recommended resources for exploring voter suppression with students have been chosen with accessibility in mind. All recommended videos include closed captioning or transcripts, and all lessons and activities can be easily adapted for remote learning. 

Teaching Tolerance Lessons and Discussion Guides

The True History of Voting Rights

In this lesson, students learn about the expansion and restriction of voting rights in the United States. They examine laws and court rulings that have affected the voting rights of millions of Americans, brainstorm possible explanations for voter disengagement and explore a timeline of voting rights in the United States. In an extension activity, students learn how to register to vote.

Why Local Elections Matter

In this lesson, students explore the ways that decisions by local government affect their lives. They’ll review research and data about a few recent local elections to push back against the myth that a single vote doesn’t count. They’ll learn how laws in their state encourage or suppress voter engagement. And in an extension activity, eligible students learn how to register to vote.

The Truth About Voting

In this lesson, students will learn some common myths about voting today, think through who these myths might benefit, learn why these myths are incorrect and consider how people might ensure every eligible citizen has a chance to vote. In an extension activity, students learn how to register to vote.

Teach This: Voter Suppression and Literacy Tests

This is the first of three discussion guides featuring excerpts from One Person, No Vote: How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally, written by Carol Anderson and adapted for young readers by Tonya Bolden. It pairs the text with a short video about Reconstruction to help students understand the ways Jim Crow laws restricted voting rights and explain the need for the Voting Rights Act.

Teach This: The Voting Rights Act

This is the second discussion guide featuring excerpts from One Person, No Vote: How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally. It pairs the text with a clip from a documentary about Congressman John Lewis to help start a conversation with students about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and how voter suppression manifests today.

Teach This: Voter Fraud and Voter Suppression

This is the last discussion guide featuring excerpts from One Person, No Vote: How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally, written by Carol Anderson and adapted for young readers by Tonya Bolden. It asks students to analyze arguments in passages on accusations of voter fraud, the arguments behind Shelby v. Holder and the impact of voter ID laws. Students identify claims, recognize evidence and evaluate the argument that charges of voter fraud can be a form of voter suppression.

Voting Rights and Voter Suppression Today

Exploring Voter Suppression and Activism in U.S. Elections

The Pulitzer Center 

This resource centers a 2020 article about voting in South Carolina to encourage students to connect contemporary voter suppression to its historical precedents and recognize how activists are fighting voter suppression today. Brittany Gibson’s “All the Ways Your Vote May Not Be Counted in South Carolina” details some of the state-level policies and laws that make voting harder. In this resource from The Pulitzer Center, the article is supplemented with a framing quotation, questions for students to answer during and after reading, and recommended extension activities.   

Challenges to Voting

PBS Newshour Extra 

Day two of the PBS unit “To Vote or Not to Vote” builds on the short video “So You Think You Can Vote,” which is complemented by a set of discussion questions and recommendations for extension activities. The film provides students with a quick, engaging introduction to voting rights. Students will learn that the right to vote is not enshrined in the Constitution, and they will hear from a Black voter in Alabama about her efforts to cast a ballot before 1965. The video offers a helpful overview of The Voting Rights Act and the 26th Amendment, and it connects historical instances of voter suppression to contemporary policies like voter ID laws, polling place closures and more.

Voting by Mail

Will More Voters Vote by Mail This Fall?

PBS Newshour Extra 

This activity asks students to consider the essential question, “What are the cases for and against voting by mail?” It includes a short video, discussion questions and recommended extension activities. The video provides a brief overview of the history and present status of voting by mail, some explanation of the current calls for expansion of mail-in voting in 2020 and a synthesis of the arguments against the practice. While the video names that voting by mail is a state-level decision, it focuses on the national conversation. 

Should I Vote by Mail?

Bites Media (via Teaching for Democracy Alliance) 

A valuable tool for contextualizing the debate around mail-in voting for students, this resource offers well organized, easy to understand information about voting by mail in the United States. Links to both primary and secondary sources allow the opportunity to push students deeper in their understanding of arguments for and against voting by mail, and the included video from the Wall Street Journal provides a clear, accessible introduction to the topic. For those encouraging students to build arguments around issues of voter access or suppression, the included Vox video offers an excellent model.

The Voting Age

Should the Voting Age Be Lowered to 16?

The Learning Network (The New York Times) 

For this activity, students are asked to read the 2018 New York Times op-ed “Why We Should Lower the Voting Age to 16.” In the essay, Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg makes an argument in favor of lowering the voting age based on scientific understandings of brain development and decision-making skills in adolescents. Educators can use the series of questions included in the activity as independent writing prompts or to guide small group or class discussion.

Philosophical Chairs Discussion: Should the Voting Age Be Lowered to 16?

American Bar Association 

This lesson plan, which could easily be adapted for remote class meetings, asks students to read arguments advocating for or against lowering the voting age in the U.S. to 16. Included handouts guide students through notetaking and summarizing, and the proposed “philosophical chairs” activity encourages them to engage with one another to clarify their understanding and better advocate for their chosen position on the issue. 

Voter ID

What’s the Deal With Voters’ Rights? 

PBS Frontline 

These resources provide students with an overview of the arguments for and against voter ID laws. The included videos contextualize voter ID laws within the framework of Shelby v. Holder. The site includes three very short videos—“Why Doesn’t Everyone Have Voter ID?” “Why Are Voter ID Laws So Controversial?” and “Are Civil Rights Laws Being Reversed?” Each is accompanied by background reading and teaching tips, including questions for students to answer before, during and after watching. 

Monitoring the Midterms: Voter ID Laws and America’s History of Voter Suppression

PBS NewsHour Extra 

This resource is built around an interview with Emory professor Carol Anderson. Students can watch the short video and read the transcript in which Anderson explains how false allegations of voter suppression have been used to justify voter ID laws and voter roll purges that disproportionately affect Black voters. The questions included in this 2018 resource help students parse Anderson’s argument, review her evidence and critically evaluate the ways that voter fraud and voter ID laws are represented in the media.

Gerrymandering

Redistricting and Gerrymandering

The Lowdown (KQED) 

This lesson, aligned with ELA CCSS, is built around the Above the Noise short video “Gerrymandering and Your Right to Vote.” Students will learn about how gerrymandering works and how reforms might address gerrymandering. Educators should note that some supporting materials from this 2017 lesson mention an upcoming Supreme Court case. In 2019, the Court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause that partisan gerrymandering is not in itself unconstitutional and therefore can only be addressed by Congress, not the courts.

Investigating Gerrymandering and the Math Behind Partisan Maps

The Learning Network (The New York Times) 

This resource, designed for math teachers, uses gerrymandering as a real-life example of proportionality. Less a lesson plan than a collection of recommendations, this resource is packed with videos, images and other materials, as well as practical recommendations for bringing gerrymandering into the math classroom. Finally, it provides ideas for “going further” with additional suggestions for incorporating the election into math classes. Educators should note that some sections of this 2017 resource mention an upcoming Supreme Court case. In 2019, the Court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause that partisan gerrymandering is not in itself unconstitutional and therefore can only be addressed by Congress, not the courts. 

 

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