Does My Vote Matter?
What do students already know about the connection between voter participation and the enactment of legislation? Each student identifies truths and lies by writing true or false as the instructor reads the question to the class.
- Elected officials influence the cost of higher education (True. Many people get government loans to help pay for higher education, much financial aid is provided by government, and elected officials determine tuition rates for public community colleges and four-year colleges and universities.)
- Elected officials have no influence on jobs (False. Elected officials levy taxes on businesses and if the taxes are too high, it can discourage businesses from creating jobs. Also, local governments are largely responsible for streets, street lighting, public safety, and other things that attract businesses to locate in a community.)
- Elected officials do not care what the people want or need. (False. Different groups of voters have different priorities. Elected officials try to respond to the priorities of the voters who elected them. If large numbers of people don’t vote, elected officials may not be aware of their wants and needs.)
Students share thoughts with a partner about the following questions:
- Does your vote matter? Is the system rigged? Would policy be different if people like you were the majority of the voters? If yes, how?
- Pairs share out to the whole group.
Group discusses the effects of low vs. high rates of voter turnout on election outcomes.
Instructor introduces the concept with one or more examples, such as:
- Smaller vs. larger number of test questions. Which multiple choice test would you rather take: 2 questions @ 10 points each or 20 questions @ 1 point each. Why? (One incorrect answer on a 2 question test has more impact on your grade than missing one question on a 20 item test where each item is worth one point. Relate this to the impact of low voter turnout, i.e., the influence of a few people)
- Voting for your favorite performer(s)on live talent shows, e.g., American Idol, The Voice. If 5 volunteers from the audience select the winner rather than each member of an audience of 500, which method represents the preferences of the audience? Another possible scenario is to have three people in the class vote on a favorite ice cream flavor (or something similar) and compare results to having the entire class vote. Are the results the same?
Video Outline: Does My Vote Matter?
- Magda Cruz Interview
- Brief overview of civil rights landmarks: 1776 – Declaration of Independence, 1919 -19th Amendment – Women’s Right to Vote, 1964 – the 24th Amendment Voting Rights Act of 1965
- What does voting have to do with me? What can I do?
Activity – Discussions
Instructor chooses one or more of the following:
- Class discussion following the video: How was Madga’s life impacted by public policies? How did financial aid from Southern Methodist University (SMU) change Magda’s view on the importance of voting?
- Explore how the will of the people influences whether legislation is enacted or not enacted.
- Cite instances in which voters have made a difference, for example:
- In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, widespread alcoholism, family violence, and corruption caused popular support for alcohol prohibition to grow, especially among religious groups. The supporters of prohibition lobbied heavily for their cause and, in response, state legislatures one after another, ratified the 18th amendment to the U.S. constitution, which shut down the brewing industry in 1920. During the 1920s, however, the laws banning alcohol were largely ignored, resulting in loss of tax revenue for the government and widespread violent organized crime, which shocked people. Public sentiment changed and state constitutional conventions were convened for the purpose of reversing alcohol prohibition. Finally, in 1933 prohibition was ended with the ratification of the 21st amendment, which repealed the 18th amendment.
- Early in 2016, the state of North Carolina passed HB2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. The bill mandated that people can only use bathrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates and also prohibited municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination and other local policies. The bill was vigorously supported by the Governor, while the Attorney General refused to defend it. The measure proved to be unpopular with the people as it resulted in widespread boycotts and travel bans. Polls showed North Carolinians felt the bill hurt the state economically and tarnished its image. In the election later in 2016, the incumbent Governor was defeated and replaced by the former Attorney General. Controversy over HB2 is often cited as the reason for election’s outcome. HB2 was repealed in 2017.
- What do these events have in common?
- Did voting matter in these examples?
- Would policies be different today if African Americans or women still could not vote today?
- (Suggested response: Legislators tailor legislation to voters to get re-elected. There are two aspects that legislators consider: The numbers of potential voters with an opinion and the strength of those opinions. Both aspects played a role in the examples 1-4.)
- Continue discussion with examples from current events: How might better voting turnout affect the following policies? (Sample topics) gun control, immigration policies, health care, tax reform.
- Cite instances in which voters have made a difference, for example:
Instructor chooses option(s) most appropriate for reading level.
- Texas Politics 4.1, 4.2. Explaining Voting and Non-Voting
(Instructors, see Talk Read Talk Write)
- [Talk 1] Why do so many choose not to vote?
- [Read] Texas Politics4.1, 4.2
- [Talk 2] Is a sense of civic duty critical for a democracy to operate?
- [Write] Based on what you have watched and read today, do you think you are more likely to vote?
- Open Stax, 7.2 Voter Turnout
If you were an elected official having to decide a controversial policy, what group of people, from the image above, would you be most interested in speaking with: someone in the category of total population, voting age population, voting-eligible population, registered voters, or actual voters in 2012? Why?
- Lenz-Holman text, Chapter 10
- Read interview at the following website and then answer the questions below:
“Of the People.”
- Which interviewee do you most closely identify with?
- What are the core issues that concern the interviewee you selected?
- Would elected officials be interested in these issues?
- Could this person’s vote make a difference?
Activity – Voter Participation
- Guide students to websites where they can find information on the precinct where they live, what was on the ballot, and other information:
- Research a recent election in your precinct. Report on what and/or who was on the ballot and the outcomes of the voting. How are you directly or indirectly affected by these election results? What was the rate of voter turnout? Do the results reflect the interests of a few citizens or many? Would higher voter turnout have changed the results? What recommendations would you make to increase voter turnout in your precinct?
- Calculate the voter turnout rate in your precinct for the most recent municipal election, primary election, midterm election, and presidential election. Do the results reflect the interests of a few citizens of many?
Activity – Advocacy
Pretend you are the director of a new interest group, the “American Association of Young People (AAYP).” Design a bullet-point plan to present to funders for getting politicians to pass the AAYP’s agenda.
Questions to consider as you research and plan:
- Who is this organization?
- What is its purpose?
- What is its key legislative priorities?
- How is it funded?
- How does its work relate to you and/or your children’s education?
- How does its work influence elected officials?
In preparation for developing your plan, research an existing advocacy group and its website, such as
- the League of Women Voters
- the National School Boards Association
Additional options for organizations:
- Faith in Texas
- National Right to Life
- Planned Parenthood
- Sierra Club
- Southern Poverty Law Center