Forty-two years ago, I voted in a 2-story red brick fire station on 46th and Nicollet in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Standing in line, I took in the candy-apple-red of the Hook-n-Ladder, the black rubber boots poised to be stepped into when the alarm sounded, and the patina of the brass fire pole, standing sentry, in the middle of the structure.
On that crisp, fall, first Tuesday in November, the experience of being inside an active fire station was captivating. Even more captivating was how it felt to cast my ballot that day, for the very first time. This year, I will vote in a different city, in a different place, in a different time. The red brick fire station still stands, although it is a bagel shop now. All these years later, and I am just as captivated to cast my ballot as I was back then.
The Vocabulary of Voting
As U.S. citizens, it is our honor, privilege, and responsibility to vote. The voting vocabulary, below, is intended to teach students some of the voting terms and how they relate to the upcoming November 3rd, 2020 presidential election.
U.S. citizens who are registered to vote, cast their ballots for the president and vice-president of the United States every four years. This video, Electing a U.S. President in Plain English breaks down the election process in a way that is easy to understand.
Completed by a show of hands, voice, or ballot, a vote indicates a choice between candidates. In the United States, votes are typically cast for one of the political parties: Democratic, Republican or Independent. Looking for a way to explain voting to your students? This video from Kids Academy called Voting for Kids, is helpful.
Each state (and Washington, D.C.) has its own rules for voter registration and eligibility. Examples of voter registration requirements include: Must be a citizen of the United States, must be a state resident, and must be 18 years old on election day. For information on specific state requirements, this state-by-state voter registration guide from Vote.org lists the voting requirements for each state.
A written, confidential vote that is cast in-person, by mail, online, or by proxy. This video demonstrates how to fill in one’s ballot.
Physically traveling to one’s designated polling location to vote. This video provides a look at what it is like to vote in person by paper or on a touchscreen in Johnson County, Kansas.
A vote cast by someone who is unable to vote in person, or by someone who prefers to vote, remotely, typically, by mail. Not sure how to fill out an absentee ballot? This clear, concise video explains.
The total number of votes cast for a candidate in the United States (and Washington, D.C.). A more detailed explanation is provided in this video.
Each state has a specific number of electoral college votes, determined by the state’s population. The winner of a presidential election is based on state electoral college totals and not on the popular vote. This video provides an historical, more in-depth look at the Electoral College.
Right to Vote:
The “right to vote” is not stated in the U.S. Constitution, it is implied. In 1870, the 15th Amendment banned voting discrimination on the basis of race. In 1919, the 19th Amendment banned voting discrimination on the basis of sex. However, due to gender inequities and racism, voting rights were not as straightforward as the passing of the Amendments. This video explains the “long, bitter, agonizing fight” for voting rights.
Branches of Government:
There are three branches in the United States’ government:
The Legislative Branch: The Senate and House of Representatives, also known as Congress. There are 100 U.S. Senators, 2 per state, and 435 U.S. State Representatives based on state population. The role of Congress is to create laws under the U.S. Constitution.
The Judicial Branch: Includes the Supreme, Circuit, Local (magistrate), and City (municipal) courts. The role of the Judicial Branch is to interpret the law.
The Executive Branch: Includes the president, vice-president, and the president’s Cabinet. The role of this branch is to implement the law. Kids Academy created this video that teaches about the 3 branches of government.
11 Resources to Teach About the Election
- This article from NPR will get you up-to-speed on the candidates’ education plans and priorities.
- Unsure of what the politicians views are on different issues? Tracking the Issues in the 2020 Election from NPR provides guidance.
- If you haven’t heard of iCivics, it’s your lucky day! The iCivics site includes a Win the White House Election Game and other election resources.
- Of all the resources on this list, this one called Voter and Election Resources for a Civil Classroom from Teaching Tolerance taught me the most.
- PBS provides a collection of election materials cleverly called The Election Collection!
- Teach and Learn with the 2020 Election from the New York Times includes “writing prompts, challenges, lesson plans, and other resources for teachers and students.”
- I was immediately intrigued by this website’s name, “Facing History and Ourselves,” and pleasantly surprised by these Teaching Resources for the 2020 U.S. Election.
- Can’t find the words to explain all of the terms, nuances, and hoopla around elections and voting? These 12 Great Videos to Teach Students about Elections & Voting from We Are Teachers are just in the nick of time.
- Tech & Learning provides a list of the Best 20 Election Sites and Apps for Education.
- This aggregate of Election Ideas and Resources from Pinterest sparks creativity!
- Not sure what’s happening next? The 2020 Election Calendar from NPR will keep you on track and in-the-know.
This year’s presidential election will take place on November 3rd, 2020, but absentee and early in-person voting has already begun! Cast your ballot on or before November 3rd to make sure your voice is heard.
Thank you for voting!