Lesson: Becoming a Voter

 
Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students apply their state’s requirements for registering to vote. Students learn when and how to register, how to complete a voter registration form, and when and how to reregister.

Suggested Grade Level

Any grades in upper elementary through high school

Estimated Time to Complete

50 minutes (approximately)

Lesson Objectives
After completing this lesson, students should be able to:

  • explain general voting requirements,
  • understand the voter registration requirements and process in their state, and
  • complete a voter registration form.

Materials Needed

Vocabulary

  • absentee ballot
  • citizen
  • felony
  • independent voter
  • mentally incompetent
  • parole
  • qualifications
  • register


Before the Lesson


Approximately two or more weeks before executing this Lesson, communicate with the registrar of voters’ office of your state or the League of Women Voters (https://www.lwv.org/). Or look at the Vote Early Day site which will lead to individual state information. https://www.voteearlyday.org/

Prepare for the lesson by obtaining the following materials and information:

  • Voter registration forms (one per student). You can obtain these from the registrar of voters or download, print, and photocopy the form from your secretary of state’s website. (A voter registration form from New York State has been provided as an example.)
  • Determine the date for a simulated election (found in Across the Grades), should you chose to do one. The simulated election can be timed to coincide with or precede the general election.
  • Create or Request “I Voted” stickers—one for each student in your class. (To be used in the simulated election.)
  • Research your state’s requirements for registering and voting. Find this information on your secretary of state’s website. You will use this information for Teacher Resource 3.
  • Determine who can vote by absentee ballot in your state (Because of Covid-19 this may be different for the election of November 2020.)

Assign students a reading or review of a We the People… Lesson, or the social studies text used in your school.

Lesson Procedure

1. Beginning the Lesson: Why Do States Control Voter Registration?

Vocabulary words are listed above, as part of this lesson. You the teacher should complete whatever vocabulary activity that your class has become accustomed too, (i.e. a vocabulary-wall or a journal entry etc.). Teacher Resource 1 provides the definitions should you need it.

Begin the lesson by asking students ‘who is eligible to vote in the U.S. today?’. Accept all their responses – they should all boil down to “a citizen of the U.S. who is at least 18 years old”.

The term ‘citizen’ appears in the vocabulary terms, for this lessons, if you have not dealt with the subject of U.S. Citizenship yet you may choose to do so now. (There are many resources you can use: the history textbook used by your school; Lesson 23 of the Level 1 or Lesson 29 of the Level 2 or Lesson 33 of Level 3 of the We the People… text; or perhaps adapt one or two of the Constitution Day lessons found here just to name a few)

As an introduction to the concept of voter registration, ask students if they had to register to attend school? (Depending on the grade level the students may not remember. You may need to remind them of this.)

What might be the benefits of registering for school?

Could any of those benefits be why citizens are asked to register to vote?

Who do they believe sets the standard for voter registration? Why? (Record their responses on the board or chart paper or hold a mini – discussion with the students)

2. What Are the Requirements to Register to Vote?

Inform students that the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions and state laws establish voter registration qualifications.

Divide the class into groups of 4 or 5 students.

Distribute the Student Handout to each group.

Assign each group either the US Constitution section (of voter qualifications) or the State section (of voter qualifications). Determine how much time you will give the groups to deal with their sections and access to where they can find the information.

When the groups are done, Give each student their own copy of the Student Handout. Then have each group share their responses, beginning with those who have the U.S. Constitution section. Each student should then copy the correct responses down on their own handout.

OR
If you have an older group of students:

Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 students.

Distribute the Student Handout to each group. Assign each group as follows:

One group should look at the US Constitution; the remaining groups should be assigned a group of states (perhaps 3 or 4 states) make sure one of the groups has the state you are currently in. Determine how much time you will give the groups to do their work and access to where they can find the information.

When the groups are done, Give each student their own copy of the Student Handout. Then have each group share their responses, beginning with those who have looked and written about the U.S. Constitution. The other groups should share out the commonalities and differences they found for the states they were responsible for. Each student should then copy the correct responses for the U.S. Constitution and their state down on their own handout.


OR
if you need to move quickly:

On a screen or the classroom board, project the first half of Teacher Resource 3. It indicates voting requirements for all citizens of the United States.
  • Ask different students to read the registration requirements and instruct the class to take notes on the Student Handout.
  • Students may need help with the vocabulary terms felony, independent voter, mentally incompetent, parole, and register. Definitions can be found in Teacher Resource 1.
Show students the second half of Teacher Resource 3. Indicate your state’s additional requirements for voter registration.


3. Applying Information: Registering to Vote

A voter registration form is required for completion of this part of the lesson. You can obtain a voter registration form from your secretary of state’s website.

Inform students that, in most states, voter registration must be completed within a specific time period before an election. Tell students the voter registration deadline in your state. (This may be effected by COVID-19 for the November 2020 election)

Distribute a voter registration form to each student. (A NYS registration form has been provided for expediency in this lesson)

  • Review the registration form step-by-step with students.
  • Assist them in completing the form.
  • Collect the registration forms.

Define and explain the term absentee ballot (referenced in Teacher Resource 1).

Ask students to think of voters who qualify to use an absentee ballot. Here are some examples of possible responses:

  • College students who cannot get home to vote
  • Military personnel who cannot get home to vote
  • Adults who cannot get to the election polls because of their jobs
  • Physically disabled adults (anyone over 18)

Inform students that some state registrars remove people from the rolls of registered voters if they do not participate in elections. This means that if you fail to vote in a specific number of consecutive elections, you may have to reregister.

Ask students whether a homeless person can register to vote given that they have no permanent address. (Responses will vary depending on the state.)

  • Some voter registration forms allow an intersection of streets to be used as an address. This allows homeless people to register to vote.

4. Concluding the Lesson: Would Our Registration Forms Be Accepted?

Conduct a mini-discussion

(If dealing with an older class – bring in the variety shared in the exercise “What are the requirements to Register to Vote?”)

Ask students whether the class would meet the state’s deadline for registering to vote if the forms were mailed today. Why or Why Not? (Answers will vary depending on the grade, and the state regulations.)

What if anything would they change about their state’s rule for registering to vote? Why?

Would their suggestion(s) violate either the U.S. Constitution, any Federal or State laws?


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