Lesson 2: Who Gets to Vote
Voting today, with some exceptions, is considered a universal right for American citizens. If you are a citizen, by birth or by naturalization, you can vote. However, this universal attitude toward voting has evolved throughout the course of American history as a society and its values and laws changed.
- Students will understand what limitations were placed on voting in the past.
- Students will learn how amendments to the Constitution expanded voting rights.
- Students will understand that social and cultural changes impact political decisions like amendments.
amendment: an alteration of or addition to a motion, bill, constitution, etc.
constitution: the system of fundamental principles according to which a nation, state, corporation, etc. is governed
delegate: to commit powers, functions, etc. to another as an agent or deputy
farthing: a former bronze coin of Great Britain, equal to one-fourth of a British penny
jurisdiction: the right, power, or authority to administer justice by hearing controversies and determining their outcomes
naturalize: to give the rights and privileges of a citizen to a foreigner
prohibit: to forbid an action, activity, etc. by authority or law
Brainstorm some ways that you can help your school or community. Then, choose one of the ideas and write a plan for how you could accomplish that goal in a paragraph.
- In small groups or as a class, have the students brainstorm responses to the following question:
- Who gets to vote in a presidential election? If necessary, prompt the students to consider age, gender, economic level, etc.
- Read the following quote by John Adams out loud: “Posterity! You will never know how much it costs the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
- Review any unfamiliar vocabulary words in the quote with the class. Then have the students work in pairs to answer the following questions:
- What is John Adams referring to when he talks about the cost of freedom? (Answers may vary. Possibilities include lives lost in the Revolutionary War, the Founders risking their lives and their fortunes to declare independence, etc.)
- How does this quote apply to voting? (Answers may vary. Possibilities include: voting is a way to participate in our country, the right to vote is a freedom that the Founders fought for, freedom is preserved by voting for good leaders, it is important for everyone to preserve freedom by voting and participating, etc.)
- Go over the students’ responses to the questions as a class.
- Provide the students with the various amendment graphic organizers. Invite students read and complete the graphic organizer Equal Voting Rights.
- Have the students read the 10th Amendment out loud. Then, ask the students to answer the following questions independently or in small groups:
- Whose voting rights are affected by this amendment?
- How are their voting rights affected by this amendment?
- Discuss the students’ responses to the questions.
- Clarify that, according to the 10th Amendment, when decisions regarding who could vote were left to the states, the states were free to disenfranchise anyone, including minorities, women, and American Indians. There were no federal regulations on voting.
- Repeat this exercise with the 14th Amendment, the 15th Amendment, the 19th Amendment, and the 26th Amendment.
- Review the vocabulary words and their definitions with the students. Create a chart on the board that includes the words and their definitions for the students to reference.
- Weekly Assessment:
Option 1: Fold a piece of paper into four sections. In these boxes, draw illustrations to represent how voting rights have changed from colonial times to the present.
Option 2: Write a paragraph to answer the following prompt: Should the voting age be lowered to 16 years old?
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