Across the country, classrooms are abuzz with election-related talk. Does this talk in your classroom include conversations about voter registration and turnout? We think it should—and that’s why we want to highlight our activity “Voting in Your Town.” (Free Perspectives for a Diverse America registration required.) It’s a great post-election, action-based task.
“Voting in Your Town,” a multi-step project for grades 6–12, is complete with teacher instructions, student handouts and a rubric. And it’s flexible! You can determine your starting point (for example, a screening of Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot) and figure out which websites and datasets on voter registration and turnout you want your students to analyze. Interested in an even deeper dive? Ask your class to also research voting rules and regulations and learn about felon disenfranchisement.
Through guided research, students find answers to such important questions as:
- How many people are registered to vote in your community?
- How many people actually turned out to vote?
- Were there any obstacles in the way of people registering or turning out (for example, required paperwork, long lines, hard-to-find polling places, voter intimidation or terror threats)?
Once students have completed their research using suggested resources, they fill in what they learned on three handouts: “Voter Turnout,” “Voter Restrictions or Voter Fraud?” and “Felon Disenfranchisement.”
As a class, you could even take a look at the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data on the voting-age population, estimated at 227,019,486 people. (Estimates are also available for each state.) Here’s a snapshot of select demographics of the national voting-age population:
Citizen, Voting-age Population
- 18 to 29 years: 48,930,023 (21.6%)
- 30 to 44 years: 53,919,202 (23.8%)
- 45 to 64 years: 78,123,072 (34.4%)
- 65 years and over: 46,047,189 (20.3%)
- Male: 109,941,387 (48.4%)
- Female: 117,078,099 (51.6%)
- White alone: 174,969,777 (77.1%)
- Black or African American alone: 28,820,945 (12.7%)
- American Indian and Alaska Native alone: 1,788,270 (0.8%)
- Asian alone: 9,408,983 (4.1%)
- Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander alone: 354,241 (0.2%)
- Some other race alone: 6,714,696 (3%)
- Two or more races: 4,962,574 (2.2%)
- Hispanic or Latino: 26,480,280 (11.7%)
- Not Hispanic or Latino: 200,539,206 (88.3%)
- White alone, not Hispanic or Latino: 156,957,153 (69.1%)
* Except where noted, “race” refers to people reporting only one race.
** Hispanic refers to the ethnicity category and may be of any race.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, “Electorate Profiles: Selected Characteristics of the Citizen, 18 and Older Population”
As you look over national- or state-level U.S. Census data with students, ask them, “How do the registration and turnout numbers that you found in your community compare to the number (or percentage) of people who were eligible to vote in our state (or country) this year?”
“Voting in Your Town” is more than a deep numbers dive. It also prompts students to decide how they want to improve voter registration and turnout in their communities. What specific actions can they take to bring about improved outcomes? How can they influence participation? “Voting in Your Town” includes a list of suggested outreach projects and a “Student Planning Guide.” For example, students could choose to make a public service announcement on social media, write letters to their elected officials, create and distribute fliers with voting information, organize a voter registration rally and more.
These types of civic engagement projects are important all year round, not just in the lead up to or immediately after an election. Check out other action-based tasks in Perspectives to continue to foster students’ civic engagement.
Sasser is the research associate for Teaching Tolerance.