In November 2017, voters across the nation cast ballots in mostly local races. In Virginia and a few other states, however, state legislators are elected in odd years. That meant the state’s House of Delegates and Virginia Senate were to be elected in this election. Although only 47.6% of registered voters cast ballots in the Virginia races (compared to 72% of registered voters who turned out in the 2016 Presidential election year), this was higher than 2015’s abysmal turnout of only 29%. Although only about half of Americans believe that ordinary citizens can influence the government, the news out of Virginia this December shows otherwise!
This lesson explores the hotly contested results of the Virginia 94th House District while also considering the issue of political efficacy and the effect that political efficacy has on voter turnout.
- Students will define and explain political efficacy as it relates to the electoral process.
- Students will identify factors which contribute to a sense of high political efficacy and evaluate how to increase voter turnout.
- Handout A: Political Efficacy and Voter Turnout
- Handout B: Sampling of State Elections Decided by 50 Votes or Less since 2010
- Handout C: Excerpts, Washington Post Article: “A Rare, Random Drawing Helped Republicans Win A Tied Virginia Election, But It May Not End There”
- Handout D: Voter Turnout in the United States
- Teacher Resource Guide
Warm-up Activity: 5 min
- Have students respond to the following question individually:
- Does your vote count?
- Create a continuum in your classroom—posting “Yes, my vote has a significant impact on American politics.” and “No, my vote does not make a difference in the course of American politics.” on opposite sides of the room. Ask students to position themselves between the two sides to represent their opinion. Give a few students the opportunity to explain their answers.
Activity 1: 5 minutes
Distribute Handout A: Political Efficacy and Voter Turnout. Allow students to complete it individually, answering questions as needed, especially about bolded vocabulary terms (midterm elections, voting-age citizens, registered voters).
Extension: Have students read the 2015 article “Perceptions of the People’s Voice in Government and Politics” by the Pew Research Center.
Activity 2: 10-15 minutes
Distribute copies of the news article, “A Rare, Random Drawing Helped Republicans Win A Tied Virginia Election, But It May Not End There” (excerpted version is Handout C, or watch at 15 minute video on YouTube from CBS News), and Handout B: Sampling of State Elections Decided by 50 Votes or Less since 2010. Give them time to read and review. Ask students to discuss (as a large group or in small groups) the following questions:
- In the Virginia election, do you think that the procedure followed was fair?
- Do these examples increase your sense of political efficacy? Why or why not?
- What might make these elections unique? What kinds of things might have made these elections particularly close?
Extension: Ask students to research elections in your state and your state, local, and national districts. Which are closest? Does your state or part of the state have a strong party majority?
Activity 3: 5 minutes
Distribute Handout D: Voter Turnout in the United States. Allow students to complete it individually, making their best guesses about when turnout tends to be highest and who tends to vote most often. After they have finished, discuss the correct answers together (there is more information in the Teacher Resource Sheet if you would like to add to the discussion).
Extension: Direct students to (or view together via a projector) the Fair Vote Project’s website on voter turnout.
Conclusion: 5 min
Assign a quick-write, perhaps on a half sheet of lined paper or a large sticky-note or index card.
The prompt: Should we attempt to increase voter turnout in the United States? Why or why not?