Hand putting Jefferson County Colorado election ballot envelope into ballot drop box in early voting mail election
Mini-Lesson
Current Event

How Can We Evaluate If an Election Is Free and Fair?

This Teaching Ideas 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.

Published:

Last Updated:

At a Glance

Mini-Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement

Overview

About This Mini-Lesson

Elections are the essence of democracy. They allow people to select their political leaders and then to hold them accountable. 1 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.  

Many Americans are concerned about the upcoming 2020 presidential elections and the challenges of organizing an election during a pandemic, such as the potential for delays in counting absentee ballots and the pressures on the postal system caused by increased voting by mail. These logistical challenges are further complicated by accusations of voter fraud and concerns about voter intimidation 2  or unrest during a transfer of power. It is important to note that despite past and current challenges around voting and voting rights in the United States, the country has successfully managed 11 peaceful transitions of power since the beginning of the twentieth century. While there are important actions that individuals, journalists, and politicians can take to strengthen democratic institutions, the United States has a strong record of respecting the results of elections.

This Teaching Idea uses our Free and Fair Elections Explainer to help students to reflect on the importance of elections, define the phrase “free and fair elections,” and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of electoral systems in their region.

  • 1Steven L. Taylor, Matthew S. Shugart, Arend Lijphart, and Bernard Grofman, A Different Democracy (Yale University Press, 2014).
  • 2Without a New York Times subscription, you have access to a limited number of free articles per month.

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:

  • 4 activities 
  • Free and Fair Elections Explainer

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In

Activities

Activities

  1. 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?

Use the Concept Maps teaching strategy to have students generate, sort, and connect their ideas about the phrase “free and fair elections” on a piece of paper. If you have colored pencils or markers, pass them out for the sort and connect stages of the strategy to help students categorize and organize their ideas.

After students have created their initial concept maps, ask them to share their ideas in pairs or small groups, elaborating on their own maps. Then, use the Wraparound strategy to have each student share one idea with the class.

Share the Free and Fair Elections Explainer with your students. Ask them to read the introduction and the bold headings for each section and then to write down any questions that they have about the headings.

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 first seven sections of the Explainer. 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. They can use the questions they wrote at the beginning of the activity.

Finally, ask students to return to their concept maps and add any additional ideas that they have after discussing the Explainer.

Ask students to choose one or more of the following prompts to reflect on, either in their journals or on an Exit Card.

  • 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?

How are you planning to use this resource?

Tell Us More

Additional Resources

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

Facing History and Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif