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Showing posts from September, 2016

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part I

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Over the past two months, we’ve tried to set the table for teaching the 2016 Election, beginning with the high-profile presidential contest. We kicked off with the party conventions, discussed the third party alternatives, and delved into the vice presidential selection process. Then, we parsed polling data, analyzed media coverage of the election process, shined a spotlight on money in politics, and untangled the Electoral College.

We then worked our way down the ballot, beginning with the fierce battle for party control of the U.S. Senate and a more politically insulated House of Representatives. Specific to Illinois, we did a post mortem on the failed effort to reform legislative redistricting, featured the special election for Comptroller, and weighed the prospect of ending the Springfield Stalemate through General Assembly races. On Monday, and throughout the series, we have provided educators with tools to teach the content, in this …

Teaching the 2016 Election: Presidential Debates of Paramount Importance in Too-Close-To-Call Contest

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison
We return to the presidential race in today’s post, setting the stage for tonight’s prime time debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Fifty-six years ago today John F. Kennedy squared off with Richard Nixon right here in Chicago for the first televised presidential debate in history. Kennedy’s triumph paved the way for the narrowest of victories on Election Night, and after a brief interlude, the two major party nominees have debated every four years since 1976.

Like 1960, the 2016 presidential election is too-close-to-call at this moment. It has tightened significantly since Clinton enjoyed a post-convention bounce, as she clings to a narrow lead in an average of recent polls, many of them within the margin-of-error.

A strong debate performance by either candidate (or a poor one) could shift the race by three or four points, allowing Clinton to open a more comfortabl…

Teaching the 2016 Election: Competition Lacking in Illinois General Assembly Contests

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Beyond the statewide race for Comptroller, 158 of the 177 Illinois General Assembly seats are in play this November. This includes all 118 House seats and two-thirds of the Senate (39). Senators enjoy four-year terms and are staggered into three different groups, where all face voters in the election after the decennial redistricting process. House terms are two years (see Article IV, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution).

However, only 41% of these races field candidates of the two major parties, meaning that 98 of the contests were decided in the March primary, if not on the day candidate petitions were filed.

According to analysis from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR), 50 House seats and 12 Senate seats remain contested. On top of the gerrymandered districts drawn after the 2010 census, this dearth of competition locks in a Democratic majority in both chambers for at least another two years.

Democrats currently ho…

Teaching the 2016 Election: A Proxy Battle for Illinois Comptroller

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
In addition to the Tier One Senate race in Illinois, we also have a competitive statewide contest for Comptroller. Without doubt, many Illinois residents have no clue what this constitutional officer does, and some may be surprised that it’s on the ballot in a presidential election year. This post seeks to clarify matters, and we begin by turning to the Illinois Constitution.

Per Article V, Section 2, constitutional officers in Illinois are elected every four years during midterm cycles. However, the incumbent, Judy Baar Topinka, died shortly after being re-elected in 2014. Her longtime assistant Nancy Kimme served in the interim period prior to Governor Rauner’s inauguration, and he proceeded to appoint Leslie Munger to fill the vacancy until a special election could be scheduled (Article V, Section 7).

Munger is a former business executive who lost a Lake County state representative race in 2014. She is seeking to serve the balance of t…

Teaching the 2016 Election: A Constitution Day Primer

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
We interrupt our Teaching the 2016 Election series to celebrate Constitution Day, September 17. Public schools and universities and even federal agencies are legally obligated to provide programming around the Constitution on this day, recognized on Friday this year as it falls on a weekend.

As a classroom teacher, I remember being offended that Congress thought the Constitution could be packaged into a single day, as every day was Constitution Day for me and my students. A decade later, I’m encouraged by the annual celebration across grades, classrooms, and campuses, and that so many of you weave the Constitution into your daily doings.

There is certainly no shortage of Constitution Day resources as every civic education organization under the sun seizes its fifteen minutes of fame, so I thought it might be helpful to make a few constitutional connections to the 2016 Election.

Article I establishes our legislative branch and calls for b…

Teaching the 2016 Election: How to Make Legislative Redistricting Real for Students

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison
Last week, we provided a primer on the state of redistricting reform in Illinois. While the status quo will probably prevail for at least two more years, the topic is an important one to incorporate into classroom instruction. This post compiles resources and lesson plans that make this “broccoli” (a.k.a. redistricting) more than palatable.

Starting close to home, here’s a catchy slide show from the Independent Maps coalition that tells you “Everything You Need to Know About Redistricting.”

Our friends at the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst provide a range of activities and lecture notes on redistricting reform vocabulary and examples of gerrymandering.

And as pennant fever grips the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, the Mikva Challenge framed this redistricting lesson through Chicago’s competing baseball allegiances, the Cubs and White Sox. While it’s already “wait till next year” for th…

Teaching the 2016 Election: A Called Third Strike for Redistricting Reform in Illinois

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
In working our way down the proverbial ballot for the election two months from tomorrow, it was my intention to conclude with a redistricting reform initiative likely to appear at the bottom of it. However, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the proposed amendment on constitutional grounds, sending supporters back to the drawing board.

A little history is in order, but first an acknowledgement that the McCormick Foundation has supported these reform efforts financially, and our Board Chairman Dennis Fitzsimmons led the 2016 Independent Maps coalition.

A handful of states have taken the responsibility of drawing legislative districts from their legislators and placed it in the hands of independent commissions. Illinois has attempted to join these ranks three times, each effort ending in failure and frustration.

In 2010, supporters failed to gather the requisite number of signatures, equivalent to 8% of the votes cast for gubernatoria…

Teaching the 2016 Election: A Well-Insulated House of Representatives

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
In contrast to the U.S. Senate, control of the House of Representatives is unlikely to change hands in November. Thanks to a highly successful 2014 midterm election, Republicans hold a decisive 247-186 majority with two vacant seats formerly held by Democrats.

The GOP has benefited from low turnout non-presidential election cycles and their more conservative-learning electorate. This proved especially true in 2010 when Republican gains at the state level allowed legislatures to redraw congressional districts favorable to their own party in a majority of states. By “packing” and “cracking” city-dwelling Democratic voters into solid blue or Republican-leaning districts, respectively, the GOP insulated its House majority during higher-turnout presidential years like 2012.

Four years ago, Democratic House candidates won 1.4 million more votes than their Republican counterparts, yet it was the latter that preserved its majority with minimal …