Lesson 3: Voting Rights History and Current Legislation
Committee of Seventy Logo
English Arabic Chinese (Simplified) French Spanish Vietnamese

Lesson 3: Voting Rights History and Current Legislation

Bills making it easier or harder to vote are still debated today. (45 minutes)


Watch, read, or listen to a current news report about one of the following issues:
election security, voter fraud, voting by mail, voter suppression, voter ID law. How do you think viewpoints on these issues are affected by political ideology and the bias of the author/source? 
Optional: Display the Media Bias Chart to facilitate discussion.

Whole Class Activity

Open the timeline created in the previous lesson and ask students to place the new items they analyzed onto the timeline. Discuss whether these expand (democratic) or contract voting rights (antidemocratic). Zoom out and review the whole timeline with the class.

  • What groups of people were/are denied the right to vote, including propertyless people, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Latinx, women, people with disabilities, teens, homeless, non-English speaking, and convicted felons? We are often taught that the US is a “bastion of democracy,” and in fact, democracy has been extended to more citizens over time if measured by suffrage. Why have antidemocratic laws and policies been a consistent feature? Who do they benefit?
  • Ask what students know about current election laws, policies, and issues (from day 1 homework). For example: Who can and cannot vote in Pennsylvania, voter registration, voting by mail, voter-ID laws, purging voter rolls, opening/closing polling places, staffing polling places, signature match, etc. Add them to the timeline.
  • Which groups of people still cannot vote? How might people that cannot vote be civically engaged? Which groups of eligible voters are disproportionately impacted by laws and policies that limit their franchise?

Authentic Performance Task

Use the Voting Rights Lab (VRL) to analyze a current election bill in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Students open State Voting Rights Tracker - Pennsylvania.

  • Scroll through existing laws and discuss some of them with the class.
  • Click “See All PA Bills.”
  • In the filter category, select the "Bill Impact" box. Show students the number of bills in each category. (Improves Voter Access / Election Administration, Mixed, Neutral, Restricts Voter Access / Election Administration)
  • Choose one bill that either improves or restricts voter access (not mixed or unclear). Click on the bill to see a pop-up window with the VRL summary. Read the summary and have a short discussion about why VRL categorized the bill that way. Click on “Bill Text” to see the full bill.
  • Ask students to choose a bill on their own and follow the same procedures. Complete a bill evaluation:
    • Bill number, name, and a brief summary of what the bill proposes.
    • What is VRL’s assessment of the bill? Why?
    • Do you agree or disagree with VRL? Why?
  • Ask students to write a letter or email to their PA Representative or Senator in support or opposition to a bill they researched. Use the PA General Assembly Find Your Legislator tool to get the names and addresses of their personal lawmakers.

Reflection/extension activity

If you were an elected official, what laws or policy would you like to see implemented to the Voting Rights Timeline between 2023 and 2050? Would it increase or decrease suffrage and voting rights?