1 Voting Lesson Plan Student Objectives Discuss the importance of voting in democratic societies. Learn how compulsory voting works in democratic countries that use it. Analyze the reasons for supporting and opposing compulsory voting. Identify areas of agreement and disagreement with other students. Decide, individually and as a group, whether compulsory voting is a necessary democratic reform; support decisions based on evidence and sound reasoning. Reflect on the value of deliberation when deciding issues in a democracy. Question for Deliberation Should voting be compulsory in our democracy? Materials Lesson Procedures Handout 1 Deliberation Guide Handout 2 Deliberation Worksheet Handout 3 Student Reflection on Deliberation Reading Selected Resources Deliberation Question with Arguments (optional use if students have difficulty extracting the arguments or time is limited) 2005 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
2 Voting Reading Voting is key to civic participation in a democratic society. Elections are a vital way for people to express their views and promote change. Elections also are seen as affirming a country s commitment to democracy. For a nation to be a democracy, every eligible adult citizen should have the right to vote. Governments that do not offer their citizens a choice to vote for more than one candidate are not generally viewed as real democracies. Evidence indicates that people around the world place great value on their right to vote. In democracies where open elections are relatively new, voter turnout is usually very high. But in other democracies, many adults choose not to vote. For example, in the 2004 American national elections, fewer than 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Things are not much better in other democracies. When the first open elections were held in Lithuania in 1993, more than 78 percent of registered voters participated, compared with about 50 percent in the 2004 elections. In the 2006 election in the Czech Republic, about 65 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, a substantial drop from the 1992 election, when 85 percent of people voted. Estonia has seen participation fall from 78 percent in 1990 to 58 percent in Worries about Low Voter Participation in Elections Many experts and ordinary people in democratic countries are concerned about low voter participation in elections. Democratic societies have tried numerous ways to increase voter turnout. Laws and practices that seem to increase voting include: 2005, 2006 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
3 Advertising or advocating voting. Mailing sample ballots and polling information in advance. Early voting before election day at convenient locations. Electronic systems or mail-in ballots, where citizens can vote from home. Election day registration. Longer hours at polling places on election day. Because of the importance attached to voting, some people who are concerned about low turnout have proposed requiring people to vote. This practice is called compulsory voting Civic Participation and Compulsory Voting In several democratic countries including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Italy, and Mexico citizens are required to vote in national elections. In these countries, voting is seen not only as a right but also as a civic responsibility. Compulsory voting also has a history in the United States. Simon Jackman of Stanford University notes that North Dakota (1898) and Massachusetts (1918) amended their constitutions to allow compulsory voting, but their legislatures never passed laws to make voting compulsory. In countries with compulsory voting laws, each citizen must register and show up at the polls to vote. They are not required to vote for any particular candidate. Sometimes people deliberately spoil their ballots to show their disapproval of the listed candidates or just vote randomly for any candidate. Those who choose not to vote and do not have a valid reason must pay a small fine. According to the Australian Legal Information Institute, Australians who do not vote, lack a valid and sufficient reason for not voting, and refuse to pay the fine may be jailed, although this Deliberating in a Democracy 2005, 2006 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. 2
4 punishment is rare. In other countries with compulsory voting, the penalties for persons who choose not to vote are often not enforced. Generally, countries that have compulsory voting also have strong, nationally centralized voting systems. In Peru, for example, the voter registration system is coordinated by an official organization that maintains the national voting database. People are given a national voter identification card with a photograph and thumbprint when they reach voting age. Registration is transferred whenever a person moves Compulsory Voting: Advocates and Opponents Advocates for compulsory voting make several arguments for why the practice should be adopted by democratic societies. First, compulsory voting laws do increase voter turnout. Political scientists Louis Massicotte, Andre Blais, and Antoine Yoshinaka, who study countries that mandate voting, estimate that compulsory voting increases voter turnout by 8 to 15 percent. The increase is most often seen among people who normally do not vote, particularly the poor and less educated. As Simon Jackman notes, to the extent that compulsory voting increases turnout, compulsory voting also removes socioeconomic differences in electoral participation. In other words, say advocates, the higher the rate of voter participation in democratic elections, the more those elections can be said to represent legitimately the will of the people. Supporters also see important civic outcomes in compulsory voting. In their view, voting is a necessary part of a citizen s work. While they acknowledge that this responsibility might compel people to vote against their will, as American legal commentator John Dean notes, so is the compulsion to drive only on the right side of the road. Requiring citizens to vote is no more restrictive than requiring them to register for the draft. And it is far less restrictive than requiring Deliberating in a Democracy 2005, 2006 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. 3
5 us, for example, to attend school; to serve on juries, possibly for weeks or months at a time; to pay taxes; or to serve in the military when drafted. (V)oting is the least a citizen can do for his or her country. Furthermore, advocates claim an element of civic education through voting: if people know they must vote, they will pay closer attention to the issues and go to the polls more informed. Compulsory voting laws will reinforce the idea that voting is a vital part of democratic citizenship. Opponents of compulsory voting argue that, at least in the United States, citizens do not want compulsory voting, a fact supported by a 2004 survey conducted by ABC News. In fact, opponents argue that low voter turnout may well be a sign of overall voter satisfaction, not disappointment, with the current system. Because voting is an expression of faith in the political system, opponents of compulsory voting also argue that deciding not to vote is one of the few tools citizens have to challenge corruption or fraud. When the people have reason to believe that their votes will not be counted, will be tampered with by election officials, or will be otherwise misrepresented, forcing them to vote compels them to endorse a false outcome. Canadian academic Filip Palda agrees: The less legitimate politicians feel, the more they try to pass laws that build around their regimes a Potemkin façade of citizen involvement. This is why Soviet Bloc countries forced their citizens to vote. Forcing people to vote in a corrupt or meaningless election actually weakens citizen power in a democratic society. In addition, opponents of compulsory voting worry about the central government s control of the information that compulsory voting requires. Today, when computers and information databases can reveal so much about a person, decentralized control of election information is an important way to protect citizens from an increasingly powerful national government. More Deliberating in a Democracy 2005, 2006 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. 4
6 fundamentally, opponents argue that voting is not an obligation but a privilege. If the goal is to foster citizen participation, then there are easier and better ways than compulsory voting to foster civic engagement. By increasing the level of education people receive, countries can help their citizens better understand public issues and how to address them meaningfully. Reminding people that they must choose to vote fosters the personal responsibility necessary for every democracy. Finally, critics of compulsory voting say that forcing participation of millions of people who neither know nor care about an election is counterproductive. Is making voting compulsory a step toward greater participation by better informed voters, or a counterproductive strategy that will weaken citizen power? As democracies seek to engage more citizens in the vital act of voting, citizens must be prepared to deliberate this and other proposals aimed at making elections truly representative. Deliberating in a Democracy 2005, 2006 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. 5
7 Voting Selected Resources ABC News, ABC News Poll: Compulsory Voting (June 11, 2004), Carter, Jimmy, Peru Can Give U.S. Lessons in How to Hold Elections, Atlanta Journal- Constitution (April 22, 2001), available from the Carter Center, Compulsory Enrollment and Voting (Kensington, NSW, Australia: Australasian Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Access Centre, 2001), Dean, John W., Is It Time to Consider Mandatory Voting Laws? Writ: FindLaw s Legal Commentary (February 23, 2003), Gratschew, Maria, Compulsory Voting (Stockholm, Sweden: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, April 2001), Presidential Elections: IDEA Voter Turnout Report (Stockholm, Sweden: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, November 12, 2004), Jackman, Simon, Compulsory Voting, a contribution to Elsevier s International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (December 1, 2004), ckman%20to%20appear%20in%20the%20international%20encyclopedia. Palda, Filip, Vote. Or Else! Fraser Forum (February 2001), United Press International, Mandatory Voting Proposed in Canada, The Washington Times (January 1, 2005), , 2006 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
8 Voting Deliberation Question with Arguments Deliberation Question Should voting be compulsory in our democracy? YES Arguments to Support Deliberation Question 1. Most democratic nations require citizens to do many things that are in the public interest, such as paying taxes, sending children to school, and serving as jurors. Voting is just as important. 2. Democracy is based on the idea that everyone participates and is responsible for the common good. If democracy means government by the people, then being a good citizen means actively selecting who will represent you. 3. There is consistent evidence that compulsory voting increases voter participation, particularly among poor and less educated people. 4. Democratically elected governments are more legitimate when a high proportion of the population votes. 5. If people know they will be fined for not voting, they will pay closer attention to the issues and stances of candidates and go to the polls informed. 6. Political parties can focus more on educating people about their ideas and candidates instead of trying to convince them to vote. 2005, 2006 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
9 Voting Deliberation Question with Arguments Deliberation Question Should voting be compulsory in our democracy? NO Arguments to Oppose Deliberation Question 1. People should have the right to refuse to participate in politics. Just as the right of free speech includes the right to be silent, the right to vote should include the right NOT to vote. 2. Forcing people to vote in what they believe are fraudulent or meaningless elections breeds cynicism about democratic processes and betrays core democratic principles. 3. Compulsory voting requires extensive and centralized databases of citizen information. In today s world, where computers and information databases can reveal so much about a person, the decentralized control of election information is an important way to protect citizens from an increasingly powerful national government. 4. Low voter turnout may indicate that voters are satisfied with the current system and see no need to change it. 5. People who are required to vote will not be wise or informed voters. Also, people who are voting against their will may simply vote for a candidate at random. 6. High rates of voter participation do not mean that people have freedom or support the government. Totalitarian governments often force people to vote. For example, voter turnout in the Soviet Union between 1950 and 1984 averaged percent. 2005, 2006 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
10 Step One: Introduction Lesson Procedures Introduce the lesson and the Student Objectives on the Lesson Plan. Distribute and discuss Handout 1 Deliberation Guide. Review the Rules of Deliberation and post them in a prominent position in the classroom. Emphasize that the class will deliberate and then debrief the experience. Step Two: Reading Distribute a copy of the Reading to each student. Have students read the article carefully and underline facts and ideas they think are important and/or interesting (ideally for homework). Step Three: Grouping and Reading Discussion Divide the class into groups of four or five students. Group members should share important facts and interesting ideas with each other to develop a common understanding of the article. They can record these facts and ideas on Handout 2 Deliberation Activities (Review the Reading). Step Four: Introducing the Deliberation Question Each Reading addresses a Deliberation Question. Read aloud and/or post the Deliberation Question and ask students to write the Deliberation Question in the space provided on Handout 2. Remind students of the Rules for Deliberation on Handout 1. Step Five: Learning the Reasons Divide each group into two teams, Team A and Team B. Explain that each team is responsible for selecting the most compelling reasons for its position, which you will assign. Both teams should reread the Reading. Team A will find the most compelling reasons to support the Deliberation Question. Team B will find the most compelling reasons to oppose the Deliberation Question. To ensure maximum participation, ask everyone on the team to prepare to present at least one reason. Note: Team A and Team B do not communicate while learning the reasons. If students need help identifying the arguments or time is limited, use the Deliberation Question with Arguments handouts. Ask students to identify the most compelling arguments and add any additional ones they may remember from the reading. Step Six: Presenting the Most Compelling Reasons Tell students that each team will present the most compelling reasons to support or oppose the Deliberation Question. In preparation for the next step, Reversing Positions, have each team listen carefully for the most compelling reasons. 2005, 2006, 2007 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
11 Team A will explain their reasons for supporting the Deliberation Question. If Team B does not understand something, they should ask questions but NOT argue. Team B will explain their reasons for opposing the Deliberation Question. If Team A does not understand something, they should ask questions, but NOT argue. Note: The teams may not believe in or agree with their reasons but should be as convincing as possible when presenting them to others. Step Seven: Reversing Positions Explain that, to demonstrate that each side understands the opposing arguments, each team will select the other team s most compelling reasons. Team B will explain to Team A what Team A s most compelling reasons were for supporting the Deliberation Question. Team A will explain to Team B what Team B s most compelling reasons were for opposing the Deliberation Question. Step Eight: Deliberating the Question Explain that students will now drop their roles and deliberate the question as a group. Remind the class of the question. In deliberating, students can (1) use what they have learned about the issue and (2) offer their personal experiences as they formulate opinions regarding the issue. After deliberating, have students find areas of agreement in their group. Then ask students, as individuals, to express to the group their personal position on the issue and write it down (see My Personal Position on Handout 2). Note: Individual students do NOT have to agree with the group. Step Nine: Debriefing the Deliberation Reconvene the entire class. Distribute Handout 3 Student Reflection on Deliberation as a guide. Ask students to discuss the following questions: What were the most compelling reasons for each side? What were the areas of agreement? What questions do you still have? Where can you get more information? What are some reasons why deliberating this issue is important in a democracy? What might you or your class do to address this problem? Options include teaching others about what they have learned; writing to elected officials, NGOs, or businesses; and conducting additional research. Consider having students prepare personal reflections on the Deliberation Question through written, visual, or audio essays. Personal opinions can be posted on the web. Step Ten: Student Poll/Student Reflection Ask students: Do you agree, disagree, or are you still undecided about the Deliberation Question? Record the responses and have a student post the results on under the partnerships and/or the polls. Have students complete Handout , 2006, 2007 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago.
12 Handout 1 Deliberation Guide What Is Deliberation? Deliberation (meaningful discussion) is the focused exchange of ideas and the analysis of arguments with the aim of making a decision. Why Are We Deliberating? Citizens must be able and willing to express and exchange ideas among themselves, with community leaders, and with their representatives in government. Citizens and public officials in a democracy need skills and opportunities to engage in civil public discussion of controversial issues in order to make informed policy decisions. Deliberation requires keeping an open mind, as this skill enables citizens to reconsider a decision based on new information or changing circumstances. What Are the Rules for Deliberation? Read the material carefully. Focus on the deliberation question. Listen carefully to what others are saying. Check for understanding. Analyze what others say. Speak and encourage others to speak. Refer to the reading to support your ideas. Use relevant background knowledge, including life experiences, in a logical way. Use your heart and mind to express ideas and opinions. Remain engaged and respectful when controversy arises. Focus on ideas, not personalities. 2005, 2006, 2007 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
13 Handout 2 Deliberation Activities Review the Reading Determine the most important facts and/or interesting ideas and write them below. 1) 2) 3) Deliberation Question Learning the Reasons Reasons to Support the Deliberation Question (Team A) Reasons to Oppose the Deliberation Question (Team B) My Personal Position On a separate sheet of paper, write down reasons to support your opinion. You may suggest another course of action than the policy proposed in the question or add your own ideas to address the underlying problem. 2005, 2006, 2007 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
14 Name: Date: Teacher: Handout 3 Student Reflection on Deliberation Large Group Discussion: What We Learned What were the most compelling reasons for each side? Side A: Side B: What were the areas of agreement? What questions do you still have? Where can you get more information? What are some reasons why deliberating this issue is important in a democracy? What might you and/or your class do to address this problem? Individual Reflection: What I Learned Which number best describes your understanding of the focus issue? [circle one] NO DEEPER MUCH DEEPER UNDERSTANDING UNDERSTANDING What new insights did you gain? What did you do well in the deliberation? What do you need to work on to improve your personal deliberation skills? What did someone else in your group do or say that was particularly helpful? Is there anything the group should work on to improve the group deliberation? 2005, 2006, 2007 Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. All Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago materials and publications are protected by copyright. However, we hereby grant to all recipients a license to reproduce all material contained herein for distribution to students, other school site personnel, and district administrators.
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