Fall Extended Lesson 3: The Ballot and Questions

This lesson focuses on a voter’s need to be fully informed prior to casting a vote on Election Day, and how to acquire the necessary information. In this lesson, the ballot for the upcoming election is introduced with in-depth information on the offices and questions to be voted upon. Students learn the qualifications, term of office, and the responsibilities for each contested office on the ballot. The definitions for an initiative, referendum, and amendment are learned and applied to ballot questions. Students learn what a yes or no vote means on each ballot question. By completing the handouts for school referendums, students are given the opportunity to think critically and to learn firsthand why voters need to be fully informed about ballot questions.


Suggested Grade Level


High school (Grades 10–12)

Estimated Time to Complete


50 minutes

Lesson Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • explain your state’s procedures for voting in a primary or general election;
  • describe the offices on the election ballot;
  • explain the qualifications, term of office, and responsibilities for each office on the ballot;
  • define the terms initiative, referendum, and amendment;
  • identify proposed initiatives, referendums, or amendment questions on the ballot;
  • explain how the concepts of majority rule and minority rights may affect the election of offices, initiatives, referendums, or amendment questions on the ballot;
  • understand what a yes or no vote means for each ballot question; and
  • understand why becoming an informed voter is necessary.


  • abstain
  • amendment
  • direct democracy
  • initiative
  • majority rule
  • minority rights
  • platform
  • popular sovereignty
  • primary
  • referendum

Materials Needed

Pre-lesson assignment

  • Voter Information Guide (Student Handout 13)

Teacher Resources


  • Quick Vocabulary (Teacher Resource 9)
  • Voter Information Guide—information on the ballot offices, initiatives, referendums, and amendment questions for the upcoming election
  • Your state constitution—excerpts for elected offices

Student Handouts


Before the Lesson


  • Review all Teacher Resources and Student Handouts. Make copies of all Student Handouts for the lesson.
  • Refer to your state constitution and local charter for Student Handouts 17 and 18. Group 2 will use these during Lesson Procedure, Step 3—Gathering Ballot Information.

Lesson Procedure


1. Critical Thinking Exercise: How Would You Vote?


The purpose of this exercise is to show students that they must be informed voters to properly make decisions on ballot questions. Students are asked to vote on several referendums on a school ballot. The information on the referendums is intentionally limited; however, ellipses indicate that more information is available.


Explain that the school is asking students to take a quick vote on several referendums under administrative consideration. Distribute Student Handout 11 and instruct students to read through and circle their choices (yes or no) in two minutes so that results can be sent to administration as soon as possible. Students may vote yes or no or abstain from voting if they choose. Explain what the term abstain means. Refer to Teacher Resource 9: Quick Vocabulary.

Immediately ask students to show how they voted by raising their hands. Keep a tally on the board. Ask a student at the back of the room to quietly keep a separate running tally.

When all votes are cast and tallied, ask students the following questions:

  • Why did they vote yes on a referendum?
  • Why did they vote no on a referendum?
  • If they did not vote, why did they choose to abstain?
  • How did they feel about being rushed through the process?

Compare your board tally with that of the student at the back of the room.

  • Did you arrive at the same results?
  • If not, why might that have happened? What can be done about it now?


2. Understanding Ballot Questions Classifications


Inform the students that there are different classifications for the ballot questions. Refer to Teacher Resource 9 and define the following terms for the students: amendment, initiative, and referendum. Tell students that initiatives are an example of direct democracy. Amendments, initiatives, and referendums are good examples of popular sovereignty. Refer to Teacher Resource 9 and define direct democracy for the students.

Distribute Student Handout 12 and ask the class to read it. Then ask them the following questions:

  • What did they really vote for or against?
  • Would they change their minds now if they could? Why?
  • Would those who had abstained from voting cast a vote now? If so, how might that have changed the outcome?
  • Were the terms majority rule and minority rightspart of the voting process used?
    • You may need to expand the definition of minority rights for the students. Refer to Teacher Resource 9 and define that term as well as the term majority rule.
  • What have they learned about voting and the voting process?
    • The key response should be that they needed to know more about what they are voting on and take more time to vote. They should also question the process itself.
  • Where can they get information on upcoming or future elections?
  • Students should refer to the Voter Information Guide (Student Handout 13) that they reviewed as homework. Accept any logical sources of reliable information.

3. What Information is Needed to Cast an Informed Vote? Gathering Ballot Information


The activity students just completed should have led to the idea that knowledge is a key to voting, and that they need to be informed voters if they want to make a positive impact. Students work in groups on specific ballot entries such as offices up for election and topic questions voters are asked to decide. 

Ask students to take out their homework assignment—the Voter Information Guide—and list of questions they had on the ballot.

Distribute Student Handout 14 to each student and inform students that several major party candidates had to win a primary in the spring to be placed on the ballot as their party’s candidate for office.
Ask students

  • whether they can identify a candidate on the ballot that won a primary in your state, And
  • whether they can define the term primary.
    • Refer to Teacher Resource 9 to define the term primary for the students.

Have students work in five groups and assign the following:

Groups 1–5: Student Handout 15, featuring a separate worksheet for each of the five groups 

  • Groups 1, 2, and 3 will work on the offices up for election on the ballot. If the ballot has local, state, and federal offices, you may want to assign one level of government to
    each group.
  • Group 1 working on federal offices will need Student Handout 16.
  • Group 2 working on state offices will need Student Handout 17.
  • Group 3 working on local offices will need Student Handout 18.
  • Groups 4 and 5 will work with the ballot questions.
  • Divide the questions evenly between the two groups (up to four per group).

Tell students that they have 15–20 minutes to gather the information for their assigned questions.

4. Sharing Information, Becoming Informed

Ask each group to share the information they have gathered on their public office or prospective legislation. While each group is presenting, the rest of the class should be taking notes.

After all the groups have presented, try to answer any final questions the students might have.

Ask them the following questions:

  • Were all the homework ballot questions you had answered with the group work responses?
  • What have we learned about becoming an informed voter?
  • What have we learned about the upcoming election?
  • What do we need to do next?
    • The students might respond that they want to actually vote.
    • Inform students that before voting, they will learn about the election polling place and poll worker assignments.

For homework, students should review the ballot information that they have gathered and make a decision about how they want to vote on each office and ballot issue.



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