Election Resources for Teachers

“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
~ President John F. Kennedy

2015 General Elections

(For info on the 2016 Presidential Election, visit Student News Daily’s 
2016 Presidential Election page.)

Election_2014

The United States general elections of 2015 will be held (for the most part) on Tuesday, November 3. This is an off-year election, as the President will not face election and only special elections to the United States Congress will be held. There will also be gubernatorial and state legislative elections in a few states; as well as numerous citizen initiatives, mayoral races, and a variety of other local offices on the ballot.

For links to all races by state (federal and local), go to Ballotpedia and click on your state.  You will find information on all races on your state page.

Recent articles on 2015 elected leaders:

SENATORS/REPRESENTATIVES/GOVERNORS:

SENATORS:

  • This is an off-year election: only special elections to the United States Congress will be held.
  • Did you know that a third of the Senate is up for election every two years?  — read about it at: Wikipedia.
  • The 2014 elections marked 100 years of direct elections of U.S. Senators.  Do you know which amendment established this policy? (see wikipedia for the answer)
  • The Senate is currently composed of  44 Democratic, 54 Republican and 2 independent senators (both of whom caucus with the Democrats:  democratic socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine).
  • For 2016 election information: realclearpolitics.com/elections/2016

REPRESENTATIVES:

  • This is an off-year election: only special elections to the United States Congress will be held.  These include:
    Mississippi’s 1st congressional district: Representative Alan Nunnelee died on February 6, 2015.
    New York’s 11th congressional district: Representative Michael Grimm resigned from Congress on January 5, 2015, after pleading guilty to tax evasion.
  • The House is currently composed of 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats.
  • For 2016 election information: realclearpolitics.com/elections/2016

Visit govtrack.us to find out how Democrats and Republicans in general, as well as your members of Congress, have voted on any proposed legislation.  GovTrack says it “helps ordinary citizens find and track bills in the U.S. Congress and understand their representatives’ legislative record.”

QUESTION:
Discuss how the majority party in both houses affects proposed legislation and also the federal government’s budget, spending and taxation.
See Wikipedia for a brief explanation.

GOVERNORS:

  • At least three states will hold gubernatorial elections in 2015:
    Kentucky: Democrat Steve Beshear is term-limited and cannot run for re-election to a third term in office.
    Louisiana: Republican Bobby Jindal is term-limited and cannot run for re-election to a third term in office.
    Mississippi: Republican Phil Bryant is running for re-election to a second term in office.
    If required in a state’s constitution, special elections may be held if sitting governors vacate their seats. Otherwise, the constitutional successor would complete the rest of the gubernatorial term.
  • Currently 31 Republicans, 18 Democrats, and one independent hold the office of governor in the states. Additionally, 2 Republicans, 2 Independents and 2 Democrats (one is also a member of the Puerto Rico’s PPD party) serve as governors of U.S. Territories and Mayor of the District of Columbia.
  • For information on current governors, do an internet search for your governor’s official website and/or go to the National Governors Association website: nga.org/cms/governors/bios
  • For 2016 election information: realclearpolitics.com/elections/2016

QUESTION:
Name the candidates running for office in your state.  Include party affiliation and office each candidate is running for.

The map below from wikipedia is a list of current governors as of March 2015:

Blue – Democratic/Popular Democratic Governor
Red – Republican Governor
Yellow – Independent Governor

United_States_Governors_map

STATE ELECTION WEBSITES:

Links for all 50 states’ Election Board websites are provided here.  (Note:  Many states include information and/or links to candidates’ websites.)

QUESTIONS:
Visit your state’s official election webpage.
1.  What requirements does a prospective candidate need to complete to have his/her name on the ballot in your state?
2.  What type of information would you like to see on your state’s elections page? Send an email to your state’s Secretary of State with your suggestion. Identify yourself with your name, school and city. Be clear, concise and polite. (Find contact information for your Secretary of State on your state’s election page, or for a list of all state Secretaries, go to: nass.org/contact/sos-members)
CHALLENGE QUESTION:  What issues are important to voters in your state in the upcoming election?  How do the opposing candidates stand on the issues?

For links to all races by state (federal and local), go to ballotpedia.org and click on your state.  You will find information on all races on your state page. or go to Ballotpedia’s 2015 State Legislative Elections page

CONSERVATIVE vs. LIBERAL BELIEFS:

Check out StudentNewsDaily’s “Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs” chart.  [NOTE: This is a general overview of the conservative and liberal positions on the issues.]

QUESTION:
Read through the chart.  For each issue, state which position best represents your beliefs and explain why.

PARTY PLATFORMS:

A National Platform is the official statement of a political party’s position on a wide variety of issues. Each issue category included in the Platform is a “plank.” A new Platform is adopted every four years by both the Democratic and Republican parties and is generally approved during the party’s national convention.

2012 Republican Party Platform (compare to 2008 Republican Party Platform
2012 Democratic Party Platform
 (compare to 2008 Democratic Party Platform) – [NOTE: 2012 Platform was passed during convention on 9/4/12 and amended to add mention of God and Jerusalem on 9/5/12.]

View all current and previous party platforms at The American Presidency Project.
(also see 2014 Libertarian Party platform [its last platform was created in 1972], 
Constitution Party Platform
 
and the Green Party platform)

QUESTIONS:
How specific or detailed is each party on its positions on the issues?
1.  Choose 3 issues and summarize each party’s position on those issues.
2. For each issue, explain if you believe the party was specific or vague in stating its position.  Why do you think this is so?
3.  What role does each party believe the government should take on each issue?  (What type of government action and/or legislation, if any, does each party support?)
4.  For these issues, how does each party’s position line up with your own?

2015 ELECTION MAPS, POLLS and EDITORIALS:

THE CANDIDATES:

Visit the campaign websites and YouTube pages for candidates running for office in your state/county/city to hear where they stand on the issues.
(To find the candidates’ pages, search for: “‘name of candidate‘ youtube page”)

QUESTIONS:
List 3 issues you believe are important to consider in this election.
1. What does each candidate say he would do to address each issue?  (What are his solutions?)
2. What actions have each taken (legislation) to support or undermine his position on each issue?
3. What do you think is the best way to improve the economy and reduce unemployment in your town?  Cut taxes?  Cut government spending?  Raise taxes on the wealthy? (if so, define wealthy)  Raise taxes across the board?

Consider this:  Some people vote for a candidate based on the person’s age, sex, race or religion.  Some vote for a candidate because he/she is an interesting or dynamic speaker, is attractive, or looks like a leader.  Before you are eligible to vote, decide that you will vote for a candidate based on his/her positions on the issues.

NOTE:  The U.S. has a two-party system, which distinguishes American government from most other democracies. Most Western democracies, particularly those in Europe, have multiparty elections and parliaments, but the American government traditionally has had a two-party system. Since the Civil War the two parties have been the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

From time to time, third parties have gained traction with the electorate, most recently the Reform Party, led by Ross Perot, who won 19% of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election.  Third parties can sometimes push the major parties to consider their position on a specific issue (generally when they believe the party is not taking a strong enough stand, or is taking a moderate position on the issue).  Few third-party candidates hold elected office at the state and national level. There are dozens of “third parties” in the U.S. including the Constitution Party (conservative), the Green Party (liberal) and the Libertarian Party (in general socially liberal, fiscally conservative).

CARTOONS:

Cartoon by Gary Varvel

Cartoon by Gary Varvel

BALLOT MEASURES:

Anything that appears on a ballot other than a candidate running for office is called a ballot measure.  Ballot measures are broken down into two distinct categories – initiatives (or propositions) and referendums.

  • Initiative – Citizens, collecting signatures on a petition, place advisory questions, memorials, statutes (laws) or constitutional amendments on the ballot for the citizens to adopt or reject. “Initiative” refers to newly drafted legislation submitted directly to a popular vote as an alternative to adoption by a state legislature. Twenty-four states have the initiative process.
  • Referendum – In many of the same states the citizens have the referendum process – the ability to reject laws or amendments proposed or already passed by the state legislature.

The terms above are all forms of “direct democracy” practiced by various states. In a direct democracy, all citizens, without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials, can participate in making public decisions. Ballot measures are a form of direct democracy practiced by many states in the U.S.

Read more about ballot measures (initiatives and referendums) at the Initiative and Referendum website iandrinstitute.org.

View a map that shows what type (if any) of ballot measures your states allows at iandrinstitute.org/statewide_i%26r.htm.

For a map of ballot measures on your state’s ballot for 2015, go to: ballotpedia.org/Portal:Ballot_Measures
Find a list of all state and local ballot measures by topic at: ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/List_of_ballot_measures_by_topic
or all ballot measures by state at: ballotpedia.org/List_of_ballot_measures_by_state

QUESTION:
Does your state practice direct democracy through the ballot measure process?
If so, what initiatives or referendums are on your state’s ballot in the upcoming election?
If there are ballot measures in your state, how would you cast your vote on each question?

DEBATES:

The central focus of a debate should be to provide voters with information they need to measure the suitability of the candidates for office.

Are any candidates holding debates for your state or local offices?

CHALLENGE QUESTION:
Attend a local debate between the candidates. Pay attention to the questions the moderator asks.
Did the moderator’s questions cause each candidate to clearly explain his position on each issue?  Explain your answer.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS – THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE:

The Electoral College consists of popularly elected representatives (electors) who formally elect the President and Vice President of the United States. Since 1964, there have been 538 electors in each presidential election. Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution specifies how many electors each state is entitled to have and that each state’s legislature decides how its electors are to be chosen. U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College. The Electoral College is an example of an indirect election.

Electoral Votes for the presidential election:  Each state has a certain number of electoral votes.  The more people who live in your state, the more electoral votes your state gets. (Can you see why candidates would spend a lot of time in California, New York, and Texas?)  In 48 of the states, the candidate who gets the most votes gets all the electoral votes for that state. Nebraska and Maine do not follow the winner-take-all rule – there could be a split of electoral votes among candidates through a proportional allocation of votes.  The first candidate to win 270 electoral votes becomes the President.

QUESTIONS:
1.  How many electoral votes does your state have?
2.  Why is your vote meaningful under the electoral college system?

(This page last updated 3/10/15)