Civil Rights • Voting Rights
Objective: Identify key events that have expanded suffrage to additional groups of Americans and discuss the importance of a one person, one vote system.
- Why are voting rights essential to a functioning American democracy?
Notes on Implementation:
Extend the activity by asking students to imagine the following scenario:
A group has proposed a constitutional amendment that would require voters to demonstrate a basic understanding of our government. They are suggesting having states come together to draft an exam that would test all citizens on basic governmental principles before they would be allowed to vote. The exam could be taken in writing or orally.
Have students debate the pros and cons of the amendment.
Alternatively, use tape to create a timeline along the wall or floor of the classroom and provide students with one of the actions that relates to each date. Have students draw a picture to represent the voting right and add it to the timeline.
Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the Civil Rights Topic Center within the American Government database.
When the U.S. Constitution was put into effect in 1789, only white males who owned property could vote. Over the course of U.S. history, the franchise has been extended to non-property owners, African American men, all women, and those 18 years of age or older; however, in many cases the constitutional right to vote was not equal to the right to vote in practice.
In this activity, you will identify key events that have contributed to the expansion voting rights to new groups of people and protected these rights. You will then consider how voting rights might change in the future.
- Free and Fair Elections
- Voting Rights
- Importance and Expansion of Suffrage
- Voting Rights after World War II
- Review the above Resources to learn about how voting rights have changed over the years.
- For each of the dates below, identify the event related to voting that occurred in that year.
- Review the timeline you have created to assess how and why constitutional amendments and laws have been passed to expand and protect the right to vote.
- Based on this information, what changes to constitutional voting rights would you recommend for the future? For example:
- Would you advocate lowering the voting age? If so, to what age?
- Would you advocate prohibiting people convicted of a serious crime from voting?
- Would you require people to prove a certain level of understanding of the candidates or issues?
- Would you be in favor of allowing residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote?
- Write a proposal for a constitutional amendment in favor of making a change to voting rights. Support your recommendation using logic and evidence from the Resources included above.
- Civil rights assure equal protection under the law.
- The attainment of civil rights is an ongoing process, with different groups achieving parity at different times.
Possible Answers for Activity:
- 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment gives voting rights to African Americans
- 1920: The Nineteenth Amendment gives voting rights to women
- 1964: The Twenty-Fourth Amendment prohibits states from assessing poll taxes
- 1965: The Voting Rights Act protects all voting rights
- 1971: The Twenty-Sixth Amendment lowers the voting age to 18
Students may propose constitutional amendments expanding suffrage to additional groups. Support should recognize that the principle of "free and fair elections" based on "one person, one vote" is a cornerstone of our representative democracy. Opinion pieces may indicate that the desire to achieve an informed electorate would jeopardize the democratic system, as seen in the enactment of literacy tests and poll taxes in the South.
"Voting Rights." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Content/2042815?cid=257. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019.