Voting 101

Voting 101

Click below to access the downloadable article that goes with the exercises on this page. The goals listed in the articles and exercises are derived from the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

Download the “Voting 101” Article

Section Objective:

Students will comprehend the present structure of the most commonplace voting systems within the United States and the way that they are able to interact with it.

Discussion Questions:

  • What are the strengths of the present voting system in the United States? What are weaknesses you notice and would change if able to? 
  • Why don’t more people vote in the United States? What factors keep people out of the electoral process?
  • If you have voted, what factors helped you make the decision to do so? If you did not but could have, why did you decide not to?
  • Why don’t young people vote at higher rates? What factors are unique to young people’s experiences that make them less likely to participate in elections? Why are older citizens so comparatively active in politics?

Citations / Further Exploration:

Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, Ari Berman

Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting, Joshua A. Douglas

Drawing the Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Voting in America, Tommy Jenkins and Kati Lacker

Why Americans Still Don’t Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way, Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward

Exercise: Let’s Run an Election!

Subject(s): History, English

Goals: Students will be able to:

  • Distinguish one’s own ideas from information created or discovered by others.
  • Promote collaboration with others both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Identify contemporary political issues through discussion.
  • Evaluate the evolving and changing role of government.
  • Use grammar and vocabulary appropriate for situation, audience, topic and purpose.


  • Art supplies, paper, pens, pencils, markers
  • Four sheets of poster board
  • Bag of candy

Set Up:

  • Divide students into four separate groups. Group members should be seated by each other. Place art supplies and poster paper in an easily accessible part of the room for every group.

Discuss / Do:

  • Discuss with students: When people vote in an election, how do you decide who wins? Chat about benefits and disadvantages to the voting system as it is now. What’s working? What isn’t? How do you feel about the election process, the nomination process? Hopeful? Cynical?
  • On poster board or large sheets of paper, each group should quickly create a nonsense candidate that is going to run in an election of the students’ creation.
  • Each group should draw a picture of animal candidate, name them, and give them a political party. The candidate cannot be a human person (alien, horse, dog, unicorn, etc. are all ok).
  • Bring the four groups back together and hang up the images of the newly created candidates.
  • Bring out a bag of candy. The big issue in this year’s election cycle is this bag of candy and what to do with it. Each named candidate needs a distinct position on what they will do with the candy if they are elected. As a group decide what each candidate’s candy position is. No two can be the same.
  • Examples of possible stances could be: equal candy for all, the instructor gets to choose who gets what, students have the ability to trade their candy once they get it, etc. – Only give examples if they’re totally stumped or they’ll likely just use your examples.
  • Assign each group one of the four following democratic voting systems: Plurality Voting, Instant-Runoff Voting, Cumulative Voting, At-Large Voting.
  • Direct the groups to the Voting 101 section PDF for more information about their assigned voting system. Give students enough time to research and create ballots (using paper and art supplies) for the class to participate in an election using their assigned system. They should be prepared to help explain how this system is different from others and to help administer their version of the election. Additionally, they will need to present three benefits to their ballot method and two negatives.
  • Once enough time has passed, one by one, hold individual mock elections using the four different systems.
  • Before presenting the winners, ask each group to present on their ballot method. What it accomplishes, how it’s different from the others, how it’s used, along with what the benefits and negatives are.
  • Announce who the winners are for each ballot. Are they different depending on the ballot system? Why? Discuss with students who the overall winner was across the four systems and follow that candidate’s stance on what should be done with the classroom candy bag.


  • What voting system did you prefer over all the others? What about one system was better than another? Was there a clear favorite? 
  • What are the pros and cons to each system? Could certain systems be more applicable in certain kinds of elections (legislative, executive, judicial)?