Mandatory Voting Exercise

Harriet Beecher Stowe and her siblings learned from an early age the importance of participation and helping to shape America through civic engagement.  Stowe’s father, Lyman Beecher, encouraged his family to actively participate in politics and often led the family in debates on important issues of the day.  While the right to vote was not guaranteed to most citizens during Stowe’s life, today few restrictions prohibit Americans from participating in a democracy by voting.

Unfortunately, America has a poor voter turnout.  In the last Presidential election, in 2008, only 64% of voting age citizens voted, a higher percentage than the last three presidential elections.[1] One suggestion that has been made repeatedly over the last several decades is imposing mandatory voting laws.  Meaning voting wouldn’t just be a privilege that you could choose to exercise, but a requirement of citizenship, a law that could be punishable if not fulfilled.

These two articles explore the pros and cons of this idea.  Read through each article carefully.  Highlight all the facts and underline all the opinions.

While you’re reading, think about these questions.

  • What is the writer’s main argument for or against mandatory voting laws?
  • What evidence or support do they give?
  • What other solutions does the author provide?

Afterwards, write a short, one page argument for or against mandatory voting.  Site from these two articles and make your voice clear.

Article 1 Mandatory Voting Can Lead to a Range of Problems

In this viewpoint, Maria Gratschew analyzes the problems with mandatory voting, including the assertion that compulsory voting leads to a higher number of random votes and flawed ballots. She argues that mandatory elections are expensive due to higher turnout and enforcement.

Article 2 Vote – Or Else, Editorial

In this viewpoint, Norman Ornstein discusses voter turnout and the outcome of the 2006 Connecticut Primary election between political newcomer Ned Lemont and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman.  He sites successes with Australia’s voting laws and offers suggestions for ways to improve not only voter turnout, but political discussions in America.


[1] Crissy, Sarah and File, Thom.  “Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2008”.  US Department of Commerce.  May 2010.  <http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p20-562.pdf>

This activity corresponds with Let Your Words Change the World: A Bicentennial Celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Unit 1 curriculum for grades 7 – 10.  Lessons are published weekly in the Hartford Courant from January 26 – February 16.  To sign up or to find out more information, please contact Julia Baldini, Program Coordinator at jbaldini@stowecenter.org

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About stowestudents

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War. The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

Posted on January 26, 2011, in Curriculum: Grades 7-10. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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