In the third 2016 presidential debate, Donald Trump made headlines for not saying whether he would accept the outcome of the election. Hillary Clinton called his response "horrifying." Whether you believe that the election is rigged or that the loser should automatically accept the outcome, students should understand our election laws. Our system is not perfect. It is run by humans and subject to human error. Yet, in making their election laws, states work to balance access to the polling place with keeping fraud out of the process.
Voting doesn't just happen on Election Day anymore. Though Election Day is still several weeks away, people around the country are already casting their ballots. Over the last decade, states have changed their laws to allow for more and more options for voting. Americans like choices and flexibility. And officials want to make it as easy as possible for citizens to vote. They have been concerned about low turnout rates. Only between fifty and sixty percent of eligible Americans have turned out to vote in recent presidential elections.
Election laws differ from state to state. Some laws--like requiring voters to present identification--are controversial. The National Conference of State Legislatures is a good resource for comparing and contrasting state election laws. Click on the links below to access the information.
This week, have your student look at the laws for the state where you live. And then choose another state so that you can compare and contrast election laws.
Voter ID Laws
Absentee and Early Voting
Same Day Voter Registration
Vote by Mail
Online Voter Registration
Preregistration for Young Voters
"The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States." - Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, No. 68
I appreciated the very first question in town hall debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Audience member Patrice Brock asked,
"The last presidential debate could have been rated as MA, mature audiences per TV parental guidelines. Knowing that educators assign viewing the presidential debates as students’ homework, do you feel you are modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth?"
As a parent, I understand Patrice's concern. Given the events of the last week, parents are nervous about allowing their children to tune into election coverage. How will it add to children's vocabularies? Shape their world views? Set an example?
If you share these concerns, this might be a good week to take a break from 2016 election coverage and dial back a couple of centuries.
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote The Federalist Papers to persuade the nation to adopt the Constitution. In No. 68, Hamilton sets out the reasons the Electoral College would be the best method for electing the president. As originally conceived, the Electoral College would be made up, state-by-state, of wise men capable of selecting a person fit for the highest office in the land. These electors would meet in their respective state capitols and deliberate about the candidates and their fitness for office.
The Electoral College only worked as intended for one president: George Washington. The rise of the political parties would soon alter, and some would argue corrupt, the process.
We still have the Electoral College as mandated by the Constitution. But it works very differently than originally intended. How did we get from there to here? Our Presidential Elections unit study explains how and why our system of electing a president changed.
This week, take some time to read about why the Electoral College was set up, what it was supposed to guard against, and what kind of people it was supposed to elect to the presidency.
You can find The Federalist No. 68 here.
Read it with your student. Then consider the following questions:
It's not too late to delve into the Presidential Elections unit study. Families can easily double-up on lessons and be fully informed when Election Day arrives!
Did you watch the first presidential debate? I wasn't able to watch it live, but I was able to download it via the CNN Debates podcast and listen to it in my car the very next day. Nothing beats watching it live on television, but this was the next best thing. The debate podcasts are unedited, and there's no commentary from CNN anchors, which is exactly what I was looking for. This is a great resource for busy homeschool families on the go! Other recent CNN Debates podcasts include a town hall with Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and another with libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. I plan to listen to both!
In case you missed the first debate, you can watch it in full here.
Don't forget to mark your calendar for the next debates:
October 4, 2016: Vice Presidential Debate
October 9, 2016: Second Presidential Debate
October 19, 2016: Third Presidential Debate
Since the debates will be dominating presidential election news for the next few weeks, we've created a game for your homeschool family to play as you watch or listen (live or later). It's called 99 Words. It's fun, and it will encourage your homeschool student really pay attention to what the candidates are saying. Students can play by themselves, or the whole family can play. Or better yet, host a debate watching party and have all of the guests play. Here's how:
1. Download the free printable. Print out as many copies as you have players.
2. The players should carefully read over the list of words several times.
3. Then watch a presidential or vice presidential debate.
4. As the players watch, whenever they hear a candidate say one of the words, they should circle it on their papers.
5. At the end of the debate, the players should add up the number of words they had circled.
6. The winner is the person who circled the most words. If playing alone, see how close to 99 the player came!
7. Optional follow-up: Take two or three of the words and ask your students if they remember what the candidates were talking about when they heard the words. (For example, what were the candidates debating when the word "energy" came up?)
Another interesting activity would be to play the 99 Words game while watching a presidential debate from history. Try the 1980 debate between President Jimmy Carter and Governor Ronald Reagan. Then compare the results to the 2016 debates.
Ask: Which words came up in both debates, and why?
By the way, its not too late to begin studying the Election. Check out our Presidential Election Unit Study for some assistance (you can double up on the lessons).
*Photo courtesy of John F. Kennedy Library.
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