Free and Fair Elections: Why Do They Matter? | Facing History & Ourselves
Hand putting Jefferson County Colorado election ballot envelope into ballot drop box in early voting mail election
Mini-Lesson
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Free and Fair Elections: Why Do They Matter?

This mini-lesson uses our Free and Fair Elections explainer to help students reflect on the importance of elections, define the phrase “free and fair elections,” and learn about electoral systems in their region.

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At a Glance

Mini-Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • Advisory
  • English & Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement

Overview

About This Mini-Lesson

Elections are essential to democracy. They allow people to select their political leaders and then to hold them accountable. But organizing a free and fair election—which accurately measures the will of the people—is more complex than it might seem, as is managing a peaceful transfer of power after the election. In the past 100 years, only about half of the world’s countries have managed to transfer power peacefully to a new leader after holding an election. It is important to note that despite past and current challenges around voting rights in the United States, as well as false accusations of voter fraud, the country has successfully managed 12 peaceful transitions of power since the beginning of the twentieth century. 

This mini-lesson uses our Free and Fair Elections explainer to help students reflect on the importance of elections; define the phrase “free and fair elections;” learn about the strengths and weaknesses of electoral systems in their region; and consider the actions that individuals, journalists, and politicians can take to strengthen democratic institutions. Each activity can be used on its own or taught in any combination best suited to your students.

This mini-lesson is designed to be adaptable. You can use the activities in sequence or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • 3 activities 
  • Student-facing explainer

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Activities

Activities

Ask students to reflect on the importance of elections in their journals using the following prompts:

  • Why do countries hold elections?
  • Why do elections matter to you and your community?

When students have finished writing, ask for volunteers to share aspects of what they wrote with the class. Then, ask your students:

  • What are the common themes you heard in your classmates' responses?
  • What, if anything, would you add to your journal responses after hearing your classmates’ ideas?

Either distribute the Free and Fair Elections explainer or project it for students to see. Read through the headings of the eight aspects of a free and fair election. Ask your students:

  • What is one aspect you found surprising or interesting and why?
  • Why do you think this aspect is an important part of ensuring an election is free and fair?
  • How could it affect an election if this aspect is not present?

Once students have finished, ask them to share which aspect they chose and a summary of their reflection in small groups of 2-3 students.

Note:  To complete this activity, students will need to have access to the internet for conducting research.

Share the Free and Fair Elections explainer with your students. Use the Jigsaw teaching strategy to help your students analyze the information in the explainer. Divide your students into seven “expert” groups, and assign each group one of the following sections of the explainer: 

  • “Citizens are able to register to vote”
  • “Voters have access to reliable information”
  • “Citizens can run for office”
  • “All voters have access to a polling place or another method of voting”
  • “People can vote free from intimidation”
  • “Voting is free from fraud”
  • “Ballots are counted accurately and the correct results are announced”

Each group should write down a summary of their section in their own words and then research and brainstorm answers to the “ask yourself” questions at the end of their section.

Then, place students into “teaching” groups with seven members, one from each “expert” group. Ask each student to present the summary that they wrote in their “expert” group about their section and their answers to the “ask yourself” questions. After each student presents, their group mates should ask them any questions they may have about their point. 

Finally, ask students to choose one or more of the following prompts to reflect on, either in their journals or an exit ticket.

  • What can I or groups in my community do to make sure elections are free and fair?
  • What can the media do to make sure elections are free and fair?
  • What can politicians do to make sure elections are free and fair?

Materials and Downloads

Additional Resources

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