The right of citizens to vote in free and fair elections is an essential political right in our constitutional system. In the early history of our country, the process of voting looked very different, and intimidation and corruption were rampant. The right to vote was gradually expanded by Constitutional Amendments (the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th), opening the vote to many more citizens. During the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, accusations were made about voter fraud and concerns were raised about election integrity. Many people have called for greater scrutiny of voters on Election Day through the use of poll watchers, and some states have created law enforcement units to investigate allegations of voter fraud. Voting rights advocates worry that the accusations of voter fraud and use of poll watchers will intimidate voters and keep them from participating in elections. This lesson has students examine primary and secondary sources related to voter intimidation to determine how integrity of elections can be ensured.
Poll Watchers and the Long History of Voter Intimidation
President Trump has called on supporters, including law enforcement officers, to monitor election sites. Voter intimidation tactics have a long history.
Poll watchers – observers who can report voting problems to local officials – operate under strict rules. President Trump’s call for his supporters to guard polling places during this election has raised concerns about the potential for voter intimidation.
This story was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
Students will examine primary and secondary sources related to voter intimidation to determine how integrity of elections can be ensured.
- Examine historical examples of voter intimidation tactics.
- Assess whether actions taken by political parties and suggested solutions from students represent legitimate electoral security or veer into voter intimidation.
- Recommend ways that schools, local governments and civil society groups can model election integrity and restore faith in the electoral process.
- How do we ensure free and fair elections without discouraging or intimidating potential voters?
- When does poll watching cross the line from being legal to being voter intimidation?
- Transcript for “Poll Watchers and the Long History of Voter Intimidation” (Retro Report)
- Federal law on Voter Intimidation – 18 U.S. Code § 594 (Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute)
- Fact Sheet: Protecting Against Voter Intimidation (Georgetown Law School)
- Voter intimidation is surging in 2020. Fight for the right that begets all other rights. (USA Today)
- Common Core State Standards
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1:Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1:Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2:Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2:Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4:Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.4:Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
- National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework
- D2.Civ.1.9-12.Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions.
- D2.Civ.2.9-12.Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to various theories of democracy, changes in Americans’ participation over time, and alternative models from other countries, past and present.
- D2.Civ.7.9-12.Apply civic virtues and democratic principles when working with others.
- D2.Civ.8.9-12.Evaluate social and political systems in different contexts, times, and places, that promote civic virtues and enact democratic principles.
- D2.Civ.9.9-12.Use appropriate deliberative processes in multiple settings.
- D2.Civ.10.9-12.Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.
- D2.Civ.13.9-12.Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
- D2.Civ.14.9-12.Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights.