Access to the Ballot

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

In one week, early voting will start in many locations in the State of Illinois. Navigating the new systems concerning ballot access can be daunting in the face of a pandemic. This week, IllinoisCivics.org partnered with high school interns from the Citizen Advocacy Center to help #CivicsInTheMiddle educators unpack new election protocols, deadlines, and issues related to exercising suffrage rights in the 2020 elections.


Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, was joined by Katie Li, a senior from Naperville Central High School, and Shreya Joshi, a junior from Waubonsie Valley High School, an Illinois Democracy School. Dr. Healy engaged in a lively Q and A with our young guests to share research they conducted over the summer related to:
  • Misinformation about voting
  • New voting procedures in response to COVID-19
  • Concerns about Election Day
  • What students can do to engage in civic advocacy to increase access to the ballot
This webinar was recorded and can be used in classrooms to help students understand the democratic institutions that gird our republic. For a more basic “Voting 101” webinar, Katie and Shreya hosted a one-hour webinar on Free and Fair Elections in the State of Illinois. It is a powerful tool to use in your classroom as a model of informed action.

We asked two of our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches to share resources they use in the classroom to help students understand issues related to access to the ballot. Here are their recommendations.
  • Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz from Charleston recommends materials from Teaching Tolerance. “There is a great round-up of resources on teaching about voter suppression from Teaching Tolerance. It includes plenty of background information for teachers as well as lesson materials on topics ranging from Voter ID to Voting by Mail to a PBS unit on challenges to voting. They also have a great Q and A with Carol Anderson, author of One Person, No Vote.”
Tracy Freeman from Normal has a plethora of suggestions. IllinoisCivics.org has a catalog of resources to support using the 2020 election as a teachable moment to support the implementation of the middle and high school civics course requirements.
  • Our Election 2020 Toolkit has specific resources to teach about the upcoming election from respected civic learning partners.
  • Our Curriculum Design Toolkit has information and resources that align with our webinar topics. Please visit the toolkit to review attributes of high-quality direct instruction of democratic institutions, facilitate current and societal issue discussions, engage students in simulations of democratic processes, and coordinate service learning.
  • Our Remote Learning Toolkit has resources for face-to-face, remote, and hybrid civics instruction.
Our standards-aligned Lesson Plans provide ready to go activities for civic learning including:
  • Our new Illinois Voting 101 lesson includes a digital breakout leading to informed action.
  • Our Lowering the Voting Age to 16 lesson includes a simulated Town Hall meeting and multiple ideas for service learning that can be done in remote learning classrooms.
This webinar on Access to the Ballot was just one in a series of free online PD for teachers to support engaging students in the 2020 election. Be sure to register for next week’s webinar on The Great Debates with the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

What are you doing to engage your students in deliberating issues related to access to the ballot? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career, and civic life in face to face, remote or hybrid classrooms.


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