Voter Education Lessons to Help Students Learn to Vote

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The national student voting rate soared to an all-time high of 66% during the 2020 elections, and that success wasn’t accidental. Since early 2016, thousands of campus, nonprofit, and student leaders have been designing, growing, iterating, and building an essential movement daily – leading the charge from campuses nationwide and building one within each.

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Voter Registration

Voter registration is an integral step in the voting process, and this lesson offers students an overview of their state’s system and provides them with all the information needed to register successfully and understand which criteria must be fulfilled to vote.

Lessons can be taught either in person or virtually. When teaching online, follow your school district’s policies and procedures for classroom meetings.

Students can watch the video together or work independently on it. When all have finished, they can complete their usual vocabulary activity–such as word walling or journal entries–and discuss what they learned in small groups.

According to a CIRCLE survey, young people who received encouragement or instruction about voting during high school pay greater attention to the 2020 elections and are more likely to believe its outcomes will impact their communities. To increase student voter participation, educators should encourage schools to provide students with access to up-to-date election information, such as campuswide emails or social media postings that remind voters about voting dates or elections or use programs like CUNY VOTES, which supports voter registration through campus activities and community partnerships.

Voter Education

As students prepare to cast their first ballots, it is imperative that they understand how voting works and its ramifications for themselves and society at large. Voter education must be accessible, understandable, and free from political partisanship – it should provide details regarding when, where, and how to register; necessary ID documents required and requirements on election day – plus what documentation or preparation needs are essential to participate fully on election day. Voter education programs should also aim to equally meet all potential voter needs, including those with disabilities or limited literacy capabilities.

CIRCLE surveys revealed that high school students who received voter education and encouragement are likelier to participate as adults. Unfortunately, however, it can be challenging to provide effective instruction explicitly tailored for youth voters. To increase student participation, schools can incorporate civic learning into the curriculum through media literacy lessons and classroom discussions while teaming up with local election offices for voter registration activities and educational efforts.

Schools can host workshops, panel discussions, and other events designed to inform their communities about voting – including issues and candidates on the ballot – by hosting workshops, panel discussions, and events such as voter education workshops. Schools can also help recruit student workers as poll workers; in New York City Department of Education created a volunteer program specifically to support young people with voter education and registration efforts in their neighborhoods, while many elections management bodies make information readily available online in multiple languages as well as through social media channels.

Voter Mobilization

Voting is at the center of our democracy, yet voting can often be challenging, and people may become disenfranchised by political activity. Voter mobilization efforts can help increase voter registration rates and turnout. Educators also play an essential role by engaging young people in civic learning activities and voting.

CIRCLE surveys reveal that students encouraged and taught how to participate in elections are more likely to become active citizens later in life. One effective strategy to promote that result is conducting youth election outreach; relational organizing has proven highly successful here. Research indicates it increases participation rates by an astounding 8x when experienced adults approach networks of peers, family, and friends on behalf of political causes.

PBS KIDS’ series ARTHUR provides an excellent resource to educate children about elections. Their animated video “Vote for the New Mascot” explores how an election works, the roles and responsibilities of voters and candidates alike, emotions associated with wins or losses of candidates, and encourages acceptance of electoral results by viewers. A lesson plan can be downloaded directly from their website as part of ARTHUR’s “Getting Out The Vote (GOTV) Toolkit,” providing lessons on all aspects of civic engagement and tools educators use in classrooms.

Redistricting

Redrawing district lines after each census is a crucial process determining who will represent their constituents in legislative bodies such as your city council, state legislature, and Congressperson. Unfortunately, this can become politicized, with politicians manipulating district lines to favor their party – an illegal practice known as “gerrymandering.”

At the core of voting rights is knowing how the political maps drawn in your state affect you. Redistricting cycles such as this year’s will have a lasting impact; new congressional and state legislative maps may be approved that could alter congressional outcomes significantly by 2022 and beyond. With tight Democratic control of both houses of Congress, changes to crucial state maps could drastically change congressional results.

The education and Advocacy program of the League offers many resources to get involved in fighting for fairer maps. Students in E&A programs have designed state legislative districts, collaborated with advocacy and grassroots organizations on reform campaigns, and worked on community mapping projects.

Mapping work is essential to our democracy because the maps created determine who represents you and should reflect changes in population and interests. But citizens are the most effective force for change here – take action now by reaching out to legislators serving on redistricting commissions, attending public hearings, and spreading the word!