For a fun and participatory activity this week, let's consider having your homeschool student sign up a citizen to vote. In the U.S., you must be eighteen years old to register to vote. But Americans of any age can encourage or assist another citizen in registering to vote.
As I was walking on the pedestrian mall in my town this past weekend, I came across a group of volunteers who were registering people to vote. I had moved recently and needed to update my address. I had tried that week to print an online form, but my printer was broken. I asked them if I could take a form home with me to fill out and send in myself, and they said "no," which was a strange since the forms are property of a public office. I then declined to fill out the form in their presence, since they were volunteers from a political party and not state workers, so I could not be exactly sure who would be viewing my personal information and what they would be doing with it.
The incident also reminded me of an article I had read by Karl Rove, a Republican strategist and advisor to George W. Bush, in the Wall Street Journal last week about the battle to sign up voters. We do not often hear about voter registration in the news, but this battle is indeed being waged by the parties and in towns and communities around the country. Rove wrote that in 2012, there were about 235 million Americans who were of voting age, of which only 153 million were registered. Most of these were younger people who were less interested in politics. That's a huge number of people, especially young people, who are not registered!
Republicans and Democrats can draw many, many supporters from this group. They just have to track them down and get them to turn out. That's exactly what the people I ran into this weekend were trying to do.
The parties have been hard at work signing up unregistered voters, especially in the battleground states. In Florida, for example, Republicans added 114,126 registered voters, while Democrats lost 184,833 registered voters. President Obama won Florida by 74,309 votes in 2012.
The challenge this week will help students familiarize themselves with the voter registration laws in their states. Remember that the states control many elements of election law, including how to register.
This week's challenge: Help register ONE person to vote
Maybe your cousin just turned eighteen or you have a close family friend who recently moved. Consider helping them register to vote or update their information so that they can vote in the 2016 election. First, go to the website vote.usa.gov to find out the voter registration laws for your state. The National Conference of State Legislatures also has useful information. Print the potential registrant out a form, pick one up at the Department of Mother Vehicles, or guide the person through the process online. Make sure you know your state's process so that you can answer questions! Parents should, of course, supervise.
After the activity is complete, have your student answer these questions:
1. Who is eligible to vote in your state?
2. How and where can residents fill out an application? What information must they provide?
3. What are the deadlines for registering to vote?
4. Do you think the voter registration process in your state is hard or easy and why?
5. Did you run into any problems? Were there any questions you could not answer?
6. How could the voter registration process in your state be made easier?
For detailed lessons, tips and resources to educate your child about the election, check out our Presidential Election Unit Study.