Did You Vote? Can You Complain?

Lesson 3

Students will learn about the importance of voting and understand the possible repercussions of voter indifference – not your students, of course. Yours are fully engaged, but we've heard that some of the students at that other school [insert rival school's name here] may be indifferent!


55 minute class period


Students will learn about the importance of voting and understand the possible repercussions of voter indifference.

Oregon Standards

HS.34: Explain the responsibilities of citizens (e.g., vote, pay taxes).
HS.35: Examine the pluralistic realities of society (e.g., race, poverty, gender, and age), recognizing issues of equity, 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

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies

1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

NCSS Standards

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


  1. Teacher background handout Lesson 3
  2. For demographics of voter trends: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2009/04/30/dissecting-the-2008-electorate-most-diverse-in-us-history/


  1. Start off by pointing out USA is 138th in world for voter turnout.
    1. Point out that in Australia if eligible voters do not vote, citizens get fined.
    2. Discuss James Madison’s mobocracy theory, which means to be ruled by or dominated by the masses. This should lead into a class discussion driven by the following questions: Do we care that the United States has such a low voter turnout? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
  2. Show demographics of voter trends (refer to numbers at http://www.pewhispanic.org/2009/04/30/dissecting-the-2008-electorate-most-diverse-in-us-history/). Lead into discussion on who votes for what issues (for example, conservative Christians: against same-sex marriage, pro-life, Hispanic-Americans: immigration laws, etc.). Follow up with a discussion of low voter turnout and repercussions (i.e.who ends having more power as the result of voting and who becomes less represented/more disenfranchised)
  3. Historical examples of close elections and the repercussions. Learn about historical instances of low voter turnout or close elections and the repercussions. Research might include a student paper of what group was helped by low voter turnout, what groups were most hurt and how could it have been different had all groups fully participated). Some possible examples are below:
    1. There was a tie vote in the Corbett School District 379 – 379. After a recount did not change the result, the winner was determined by drawing cards.
    2. There was also a tie vote for Director, position 1, in the Terrebonne Domestic Water District. They also drew cards in that tie vote and Sharon Struck, the incumbent and ultimate winner, was unable to attend the recount and subsequent drawing. The granddaughter of the other candidate was the one that drew the card.
    3. Kate Brown’s State House of Representatives contest on May 19, 1992 (primary election) was won by 7 votes and then she was elected at the general election.
    4. Bush-Gore Presidential election 2000.

Extension Activities

Students poll 10 people in the community as to whether they voted in the last election. Have them note each person’s gender, race, education level, and age. Collect and tally information. If person did not vote, student asks for the main reason why. Students make a list of the reasons people gave for not voting and a graph showing total voter participation. Lists should be shared with the class. Combine the class lists and discuss the power structure repercussions in the community as a result of which groups are more likely and less likely to vote in the community.

Teacher Background Handout

In the 2000 elections, the proportion of 18-20 year olds who voted was only 28.4 %. This rate was only about half of the overall voting rate among all US citizens of voting age, which stood at 54.7%.

The United States electoral system lacks some of the features that have been associated with high turnouts elsewhere. An analysis of voter turnouts in European democracies has shown, for example, that

  1. Voters are more likely to go to the polls in countries where national elections are based on proportional representation than where they are based on elections for individual constituencies.
  2. Voter turnout is higher if the election is held on a weekend or holiday than on a working day, as in the United States.
  3. Voter turnout is lower in countries where national elections occur frequently, such as in the United States where there are Congressional elections every two years, than in countries where more time elapses between national elections.

Reasons People Do Not Vote

  1. Apathy (don’t care, don’t feel a responsibility)
  2. Don’t believe there is a difference between candidates
  3. Can’t vote (i.e. can’t get away from work, sick, disabled, etc.)
  4. Religious reasons
  5. Not allowed; disenfranchised (i.e. criminals, mentally ill, minors, “aliens”)
  6. Those against voting

The more education a citizen has, the more likely it is that he or she will be a regular voter. Middle-aged citizens have the highest voting turnout of all age groups. Voter regularity also increases with income.

When discussing who has more power as the result of voting and who becomes less represented/more disenfranchised look at the section “Voting and Demographic Factors” at http://www.people-press.org/2006/10/18/who-votes-who-doesnt-and-why/​ Pew: “Who Votes, Who Doesn’t, and Why?”