Introduction

Voter suppression is defined as “any effort, either legal or illegal, by way of laws, administrative rules, and/or tactics that prevents eligible voters from registering to vote or voting” (Demand the Vote). There are several voter suppression techniques that discourage voting, including the closure of polling places and the implementation of voter ID laws. Note that particular voters (i.e. people of color and others considered disenfranchised) are more affected by these techniques than others. By teaching students about voter suppression, educators can demonstrate that our democratic system is nowhere near perfect and push their students to get involved politically!

Resources

There are many resources available for teaching students about voter suppression. This topic becomes increasingly relevant as any election day approaches, so it may be beneficial to begin integrating these resources into the classroom curriculum as you come up to Election Day.

Lesson Plans

  1. Academy 4SC: Find videos related to voter suppression at Academy 4SC, like Voter Suppression: The Battle for the Ballot, Vote by Mail: Voting at Your Convenience, and Gerrymandering: Manipulating Democracy, among others. Teachers have access to resources like worksheets, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more included in each topic’s lesson plan. Explore Academy 4SC’s full library of applicable content under the tag Voter Suppression.
  2. Leaders 4SC Forces: Leaders 4SC provides a variety of Task Forces that provoke students to think critically about key issues as they roleplay as decision-makers and brainstorm well-detailed solutions. Each Task Force comes with step-by-step instructions, Google slide templates to be used with virtual breakout rooms, and topic-specific questions to get students started. The activities can be completed either individually or as part of a group. Some relevant Task Forces are Design a New Election System and Voting During COVID-19.
  3. Voting in a Democracy- Lessons on Voter Suppression: Democracy & Me provides a list of lesson plans on voter suppression. From these materials, students can learn about the Voting Rights Act, the barriers to voting, voting suppression tactics in the age of Trump, and more. In addition, the author includes the 15th and 24th Amendments, legislation which guaranteed African American men the right to vote and made the poll tax illegal. Educators may find this resource helpful, as it gives them a variety of materials to choose from.
  4. Lesson 4 – Voter Suppression: The Pennsylvania Bar Association shares a lesson on voter suppression that “asks students to analyze a political cartoon that highlights the topic of voter suppression and voter fraud, consider multiple perspectives, and form their own opinion on the issue.” Included in this resource is a list of objectives, materials, and a procedure (which includes guiding questions for educators). This activity is a hands-on way for students to learn more about voter suppression!
  5. Exploring Voter Suppression and Activism in U.S. Elections: The Pulitzer Center has put together a lesson plan on exploring voter suppression and activism in American elections. The lesson includes a quick warm-up before introducing Britanny Gibson’s article, “All the Ways Your Vote May Not Be Counted in South Carolina.” In addition, there are both reflection and extension activities for educators who are looking for more materials to bring into the classroom!

Articles

  1. Teaching the Truth About Voter Suppression: Teaching Tolerance’s article by Anya Malley devotes itself to the truth about voter suppression. To help students think locally, the author recommends teaching the truth about common suppression techniques (closing polling places, purging voter registration polls, implementing voter ID laws, etc.). Malley also includes a voting ease checklist which could help students become familiar with the inequities that influence voters. 
  2. Voter Suppression Is Still One of the Greatest Obstacles to a More Just America: TIME has published an article explaining why voter suppression is still considered an obstacle to a just voting process. Unfortunately, many Americans feel as if their voices aren’t being heard due to racial gerrymandering, repressive voter ID laws, precinct closures, the overruling of the Electoral College, etc. Using this resource, students can better understand how voter suppression occurs in the U.S.
  3. The Voting Disaster Ahead: The Atlantic presents its readers with information on the voting disaster that lies ahead of us during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to both intentional and unintentional voter suppression. By reading this article, students can gain a better perspective on how difficult it may be for particular citizens to vote, depending on their race, level of income, location, and other factors, especially during the time of this pandemic.

Informational Sites

  1. Brennan Center For Justice – Voter Suppression: The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law provides information on why fighting voter suppression matters, along with projects and resources related to the concepts of ensuring every American can vote. This resource specifically offers materials and information on voter purges, the myth of voter fraud, and voter ID.
  2. America’s Shameful History of Voter Suppression: The Guardian has gathered information on America’s shameful history of voter suppression. They discuss  instances in recent American history where voter fraud and/or suppression became prominent issues. This piece could be ideal for educators who are interested in teaching their students about the faults of our democratic model when it comes to voter suppression. 
  3. What is Voter Suppression?: Demand the Vote offers some valuable information on voter suppression. The site explains what voter suppression is, the targets and beneficiaries of voter suppression, and what voter suppression looks like (for example: limiting early voting, sabotaging election infrastructure, underfunding election day resources, felony disenfranchisement, etc.).

Conclusion

Teaching students about voter suppression may not be an easy task, but it is extremely important! While learning about voter suppression, students ideally will be inspired to take action in their local community and get their families involved. The resources above can provide guidance to educators bringing the topic of voter suppression into their classrooms.