“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
~ President John F. Kennedy
(For info on the 2020 Presidential Election, visit the 2020 Presidential Election page.)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- General Election Overview
- Voting Issue #1: Ballot Selfies (question for debate; includes student worksheet)
- Voting Issue #2: Voter Apparel (question for debate; includes student worksheet)
- Voting Issue #3: Electronic Voting (question for debate)
- Voting Issue #4: Voter ID Laws (question for debate; includes video)
- Ballot Measures
- U.S. Senators and Representatives
- State Elections (includes student worksheet)
- Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs
- Capitalism vs. Socialism
- Editorials on voting
2019 General Election Overview
The 2019 general election will be held on Tuesday, November 5. This is an off-year election –– a general election which is held when neither a presidential election nor a midterm election takes place.
The 2019 off-year election includes:
- the regular gubernatorial elections in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi
- one special election in the U.S. Senate and two in the U.S. House
- state legislative elections in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia, as well as for the New Jersey General Assembly (the lower house of the New Jersey legislature)
The vast majority of elections in an off-year are held at the county and municipal level. On the ballot are many mayors, a wide variety of citizen initiatives in various states, and many more local public offices. Special elections to fill vacancies in various federal, state and local offices are also held when required.
Off-year elections generate far lower voter turnout than even-numbered election years.
For links to all races by state (federal and local), go to Ballotpedia
VOTING ISSUE #1 — BALLOT SELFIES
The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter’s choices are private, preventing attempts to influence the voter by intimidation and potential vote buying. It permits political privacy.
Articles on ballot selfies:
- Secrecy of the Ballot and Ballot Selfies
- Federal Judge in California denies request to allow ‘ballot selfies’
- New Hampshire to defend ban on ballot-box selfies in court
AGREE WITH THE BAN
Those who agree with bans on photos of completed ballots say this does not prevent voters from telling everyone HOW they voted, just prevents them from proving it by taking a picture of their ballot. The purpose of the current law is to prevent voter intimidation or vote buying (two types of voter fraud).
The NCSL suggests, “If one of the goals of posting ballot selfies is to foster vote engagement, there are other ways without eliminating the secret ballot. For example:
- Take a photo with an “I Voted” sticker.
- Take a selfie next to a “Vote Here” sign.
- Taking a photo of a ballot (or with your ballot) before it is filled-in.
DISAGREE WITH THE BAN
The ACLU disagrees, arguing a ban on ballot photos is outdated – that it prevents voters from exercising crucial political speech and discourages the use of technology in get-out-the-vote efforts: that it has a “chilling effect” on voters’ free speech.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote in 2016 that courts have said free-speech considerations override vote-buying concerns. In a commentary, Stern wrote: “For millennials especially, ballot selfies have become perhaps the primary mode of political expression on Election Day. They amplify voter excitement and might even increase turnout. They are an exercise in two fundamental rights at once — free speech and voting — and help to promote democracy.”
Questions (Ballot Selfies):
1) Does your state have a law prohibiting or permitting posting a selfie with a completed ballot?
2) How might a law allowing people to take a photo of their completed ballot enable someone to intimidate a voter into voting for a particular candidate?
3) How might a law allowing people to take a photo of their completed ballot enable a candidate to buy votes?
4) What effect could voter intimidation or vote buying have on the outcome of an election?
5) With which point of view above do you agree: the ACLU, or the NCSL? Explain your answer.
You can also print the questions in this PDF worksheet about ballot selfies:
VOTING ISSUE #2 — VOTER APPAREL
→ Do you support state laws restricting what voters can wear when they cast ballots?
(Laws which prohibit voters from wearing clothing with the name of a candidate or political party – or that references an issue on the ballot or promotes a group with recognizable political views)
In 2010, when Minnesota voter Andrew Cilek showed up to vote wearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” t-shirt with a Tea Party logo – and a button that said “Please I.D. Me,” he was told by a poll worker to cover them up or take them off before he could cast a ballot. He changed his shirt a few times – to others deemed unacceptable by the poll workers.
A long-standing Minnesota law prohibited clothes or buttons that mention not only a candidate, a political party or a ballot issue, but also any group with recognizable political views, such as the Tea Party or MoveOn.
Mr. Cilek was finally allowed to vote after a poll worker took down his name and address for possible prosecution. When he and other Minnesotans sued, lower courts upheld the law as a reasonable way to preserve decorum at the polls. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Read the article: Dress code to vote? Supreme Court hears case
In appealing to the Supreme Court, the challengers said the law went too far, restricting “The most peaceful method of political expression – the silent wearing of clothing,” including T-shirts that merely name a political group or ideology and make no attempt to persuade voters.
The ACLU agreed, arguing that the electorate “is surely hardy enough to vote their conscience,” even if they see a Black Lives Matter shirt or a Women’s March hat [or a “Don’t tread on me” t-shirt].
The state said its approach preserved order and decorum at polling places and helped prevent voter intimidation.
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Cilek and struck down the Minnesota law that prohibited voters from wearing political buttons and apparel when they cast ballots.
Read the article: U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Minnesota dress code for voters
Watch a March 2018 local news report (prior to the Supreme Court ruling):
Watch a June 2018 CBS News report (following the Supreme Court ruling):
Questions (Voter Apparel):
1) In defending the law, the state of Minnesota said its approach preserved order and decorum at polling places and helped prevent voter intimidation. How might voters be intimidated by another person’s t-shirt or hat? Do you think it would influence their vote? Explain your answer.
2) a) If a group of 5, 10 or 20 people wearing the same t-shirt were to vote at the same time as you, would this affect your answer to question #1? Explain your answer.
b) Should groups be permitted the same rights as individuals in this instance? Explain your answer.
3) Among the defendants in the case was Minnesota County Attorney Mike Freeman, who said he believed Cilek was overreacting. He said, “My sense of the First Amendment is not offended by saying, ‘Tea Party folks, don’t wear your “I.D. me please” buttons into the polling place.’ I’d like to be left alone when I go to vote.” Do you agree with Mr. Freeman – do people have a legal right to not be annoyed by you? Explain your answer.
You can also print the questions in this PDF worksheet about voter apparel:
VOTING ISSUE #3 — ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES / PAPER BALLOTS
→ Should states use electronic voting machines or voting apps without paper ballot backups? Or should states use only paper ballots (to prevent hacking/fraud)?
- Judge rules Georgia can still use electronic voting machines despite concerns over hacking
- Virginia Ends Use of Touch-Screen Voting Machines
- Using an app to vote? West Virginia 1st state to test the technology
- Georgia’s new paper ballot voting system
Consider the following:
How to vote? — Paper ballot, electronic machine or voting app with or without paper backup, vote by mail
When to vote? — Election day only unless absentee – OR, early voting also; if yes, how early?
Where to vote? — Online, through the mail, drop off at polling station, in person at polling station
VOTING ISSUE #4 — VOTER ID LAWS
→ Should voters be required to show photo ID to vote?
Two points of view:
- Voter ID laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud.
- Voter ID laws are racist and cause voter disenfranchisement (voter suppression).
SUPPORT for Voter ID laws
An October 2018 Rasmussen poll found that 67% of Likely U.S. Voters think voters should be required to show photo identification such as a driver’s license before being allowed to vote. This is down slightly from 70% the year before but down from a high of 82% in 2010. Support for voter ID requirements has mostly run in the mid-to-high 70s in surveys since 2006.
A total of 35 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, as of the 2018 midterms. (see map at ncsl.org)
The right to vote encompasses two critical considerations: (1) that voters have access to the ballot; and (2) that lawful votes are not diluted by those cast fraudulently. These are not competing considerations. By preventing or detecting fraud with a photo identification voting requirement, states are better able to ensure honest and fair elections. (from rpc.senate.gov)
- Federal judge upholds voter ID law in North Carolina
- Appeals court rules Texas can use new voter ID law
- Kansas, Arizona win proof-of-citizenship requirement in voting suit
OPPOSITION to Voter ID laws
The ACLU opposes Voter ID laws. An ACLU fact sheet states: “Voter ID laws deprive many voters of their right to vote, reduce participation, and stand in direct opposition to our country’s trend of including more Americans in the democratic process. Many Americans do not have one of the forms of identification states acceptable for voting. These voters are disproportionately low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Such voters more frequently have difficulty obtaining ID, because they cannot afford or cannot obtain the underlying documents that are a prerequisite to obtaining government-issued photo ID card.”
Video – Photo ID and voting:
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:
- Initiative (or proposition) – 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 both 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.
For a list of types of ballot measures allowed by your state (if any), visit iandrinstitute.org.
Ballot Measures by state:
As of July 24, 2019, 22 statewide ballot measures were certified for the ballot in eight states.
See more at Ballotpedia’s 2019 Ballot Measures page.
Questions (Ballot Measures):
1) Does your state practice direct democracy through the ballot measure process?
2) If so, what initiatives or referendums are on your state’s ballot in the upcoming election?
3) If there are ballot measures in your state, how would you cast your vote on each question?
TEXAS students: Ask a parent: how will you vote on Prop 4? (see Ballotpedia). Please explain your answer.
U.S. SENATORS and REPRESENTATIVES
SENATORS – Republicans currently hold the majority in the Senate with 53 seats. There are 45 Democrats, and 2 independent senators (both of whom caucus with the Democrats: democratic socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine).
NOTE: Did you know that a third of the Senate is up for election every two years? — This year is not one of those years – it is an off-year. Only special elections will be held to replace vacancies in the 116th U.S. Congress
1. 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)
2. Which article of the Constitution established three classes of U.S. Senators? What was the purpose for this division? (see Wikipedia)
REPRESENTATIVES – Democrats currently hold the majority in the House with 235 seats. There are 197 Republicans, 1 independent and 2 vacancies.
2019 is an off-year election. As of July 2019, there are two special elections scheduled to complete a term in the U.S. House of Representatives:
- North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District
- North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District
One special election already occurred:
- In Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, State Rep. Fred Keller (R) defeated college professor Marc Friedenberg (D) in a May 21, 2019, special election to fill the seat vacated by a Republican.
For information on these elections, go to ballotpedia.org.
3. 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.
Currently, 27 states have Republican governors and 23 states have Democratic governors. Additionally, three U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) have Democratic governors, while one (the Northern Mariana Islands) has a Republican governor.[Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico is registered with the New Progressive Party, but is affiliated with the Democratic Party. He resigned on July 25, 2019, following a texting scandal that led to mass protests on the island].
Three states will hold gubernatorial elections in 2019:
- Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. (See Ballotpedia’s 2019 gubernetorial Special Elections page)
- 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
Read a commentary from Rasmussen Reports: Governors 2019-2020: Democrats Try to Hold the Line in Red-State Battles
Links for all 50 states’ Election Board websites are provided here.
Or, for links to all races by state (federal and local), go to Ballotpedia.
Questions (State Elections):
Visit your state’s official election webpage.
1) Name the candidates running for state and local office in your state/county/city. Include party affiliation and office each candidate is running for.
2) What issue(s) are important to voters in your state and/or local area in one of the upcoming elections you listed in question #1? How do the opposing candidates stand on the issue(s)? (Editor’s Note: In 2018, there were many county and state offices on the ballot. In order to make an informed decision on each candidate, we spent a few hours researching. We were surprised to find almost no information in our state about many of these candidates running for state or county office in the 2018 elections.)
CHALLENGE: How quickly can you find the following information on your state’s Election website: What requirements does a prospective candidate need to complete to have his/her name on the ballot in your state/county/city?
You can also print the questions in this PDF worksheet about state elections in 2019:
Did you know? Currently, 36 states have trifectas.
Trifecta is a term used to describe when the state house, the state senate, and the office of the governor are each controlled by the same political party.
Currently, Republicans hold 22 trifectas; Democrats hold 14. (See a Ballotpedia article on trifectas.)
Five states are holding elections in 2019 where trifecta status is on the line.
Party control (trifectas) of state Legislatures and Governorships as of August 2019:
Questions (Trifecta States):
3. Which party controls the state senate, legislature and the governorship in your state?
CHALLENGE: Follow the results of the November 2019 elections. Which party, if any, lost trifectas in any states? Name the states. Why do you think this is so?
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 (Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs):
Read through the chart. For each issue, state which position best represents your beliefs and explain why.
SOCIALISM vs. CAPITALISM
What do you know about socialism and capitalism? A 2017 report on U.S. Attitudes Toward Socialism found that 44% of millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country. However, when asked to define the term, two out of three got it wrong. Visit our Socialism vs. Capitalism page for information.
Posted at StudentNewsDaily:
- 5 Reasons Local Elections Are More Important Than You Think
- Don’t Vote if You Didn’t Do Your Homework
- How Tampering with Search Engines Could Swing an Election
(This page last updated 8/15/19. Information compiled from various sources including Ballotpedia and Wikipedia.)