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Lesson 2: The Constitution, Federal Law, and Voting Rights

The right to vote has been won for different groups throughout U.S. history. (45 minutes)


View the pie chart “2016 Eligible Voters.” (citation).  

What observations can you make? Who did the plurality of eligible voters choose? Have a brief discussion about the popular vote and the Electoral College, the difference between a majority and a plurality, and the impact that nonvoters and minor party voters can have on elections.

Review Key Terms

Franchise/disenfranchise, suffrage, voter suppression, plurality (vs. majority), popular vote, Electoral College

Discuss in groups 

Does the clause or law extend voter rights to, or disenfranchise a group of people? Assign one group member to report back to whole class.
• 1789 US Constitution, Elections Clause
• 1789 US Constitution, Electoral College Clauses
• 1856 “white manhood suffrage”
• 1870 15th Amendment
• 1920 19th Amendment
• 1965 Voting Rights Act
• 1971 26th Amendment
• 2013 Shelby County v. Holder

Whole class activity

On Padlet, Jamboard, or Google Doc, create a horizontal timeline with 25-year increments from 1750 to 2050. Students first place their clause or law from the above activity on the timeline. If it advances voting rights, place it above the timeline. If it restricts voting rights, place it below the line. If it does both, place it directly on the line.

Individual work/Homework

Students use selected resources to analyze other clauses, laws and events that impacted voting rights. Then they place 3 to 5 items on their T-charts and explain why it advances or restricts voting rights.
US Voting Rights Timeline - KQED/Northern California Citizenship Project
Amplifying Our Nation’s Voice: A Timeline of Voting Rights in the United States -
The History of Voting Rights in the US - Business Insider
The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of
Voters with Disabilities
- US Department of Justice