Lesson 4

Voter Eligibility

In Lesson 4, students learn the qualifications for voter eligibility, and understand the history of voting in Oregon and the United States. James Madison said it best: "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." That man could write!

Duration

55 minute class period.

Description/Objective

Learn the qualifications for voter eligibility and understand the history of voting in Oregon and the United States.

Oregon Standards

HS.26 (for extension activity): Define and compare/contrast United States republican government to direct democracy, socialism, communism, theocracy, oligarchy.
HS.27: Examine functions and process of United States government.
HS.32: Examine and evaluate documents and decisions related to the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Federalist Papers, Constitution, Marbury v. Madison, Bill of Rights, Constitutional amendments, Declaration of Independence).
HS.35: Examine the pluralistic realities of society (e.g., race, poverty, gender, and age), recognizing issues of eq​uity, and evaluating need for change.
HS.57: Define, research, and explain an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon and its significance to society.
HS.59: Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical consumer of information.
HS.63: Engage in informed and respectful deliberation and discussion of issues, events, and ideas.

Oregon Common Core State Standards

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies.

1:Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

NCSS Standards

Theme VI: Power, Authority, and Governance; X: Civic Ideals and Practices.

Resources

  1. Teacher background handout Lesson 4.
  2. South Carolina v. Katzenbach case.
  3. Voting Rights Timeline.
  4. enotes Homework Help (See section, “Historical Perspectives.” Provides some of the reasoning on voting qualifications by Founding Fathers.).
  5. Bluebook​.

Activities/Procedures

  1. Have students read the following quotation from James Madison: “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
    1. With that quote in mind should there be educational benchmark requirements for voters to be able to vote? Why/why not?
    2. After discussion, have students review decision of Supreme Court case South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966) in which it was decided that literacy tests cannot be used as a requirement for voting.
  2. Compare/contrast voter qualifications today versus past.
    1. Discuss reasons Founding Fathers set up qualifications the way they did. Was it fair? Why/why not?
    2. Discuss reasons the qualifications changed. Was the change fair? Why/why not?
  3. (groups) Research and discuss implications of how granting voting rights to new groups impacted future elections, campaigning, laws, etc.

Extension Activities

Compare voter eligibility in United States to other countries.

Teacher Background Handout

Eligibility to vote in the USA is determined by both federal and state law. The US Constitution (Article VI, Section III) states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." However, the determination of voting qualifications is left to the individual states. Throughout history, the federal role in elections has increased through legislation and constitutional amendments.

The US Constitution originally allowed voters to only elect members of the House of Representatives. To check the power of the people, the President and Senators were elected by state legislators. The states were given the power to decide which citizens had the right to vote.

When the Constitution was written, in most states, only literate white male property owners who were 21 years of age or older had the right to vote (approximately 10-16% of the nation’s population).

Thoughts on voting qualifications and the Founding Fathers:

  1. Many believed granting those without property the right to vote would lead to open class warfare.
  2. Thomas Jefferson agreed that those without property were not independent but saw the cure as giving property to everyone.
  3. James Madison envisioned a future country where those without property would outnumber those with property and those without property would vote to take property, or would be corrupted by those with property.
  4. Benjamin Franklin was one of the few who stood against the necessity of being a property owner. He believed voting was a natural right. In order to prove his point he made the following comment: “Today a man owns a jackass worth fifty dollars and he is entitled to vote; but before the next election the jackass dies…Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?”
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