Values continuum; Think/Pair/share; Sorting exercise; What if…?; mock election.
Description of the activity: Students come to understand that there can be contention between two equally valid values. They take a position on a values continuum and return to it later to see if there has been a change of position. They run a mock election to see what the difference might be if people do not have to vote, as opposed to the compulsory voting option.
Resources required: Resource sheet 1; slips of paper/ballot papers for twice the number of students in the class; two voting boxes to hold the votes.
Directions for conducting the activity:
Explain to students that all adult citizens are required to vote in Australian elections. There are penalties if people do not vote. However, Australia is one of the few countries in the world where people are required to vote. At election time many Australians question this requirement.
What do you think? Ask students to form into a values continuum in response to the statement: “Voting in elections for local, state and federal governments in Australia should be compulsory”. Those who totally agree go to one end of the continuum and those who totally disagree to the other end. Others take up positions in between.
When students have taken a position, ask a student from either end and one in the middle why they are standing where they are. Ask if any other students would like to comment on the position they have taken. Then tell students that, if they have changed their mind because of others’ arguments, they can shift now to a new position.
Students return to their seats. Ask why they think that there is a difference of opinion. (Generally the responses fall into two camps – those stressing freedom of choice and those stressing civic responsibility. There may be others who think it should be compulsory but who are cynical about how seriously some people take the act of voting and question how much they understand about what is going on). See Resource sheet 1 for the arguments on both sides. Students do a sorting exercise into For and Against columns.
Deal with one of the previous points first. Ask: “How can the question of ignorance be overcome?” Is it a sufficient reason to do away with compulsory voting? Students do a Think/Pair/Share activity to consider this and share their arguments. (Favour arguments about better education about civics).
Explain to students that values questions are not always ones about Right versus Wrong, but very often are related to deciding between two Right positions. This activity is a case of the latter. Freedom is a good thing and Responsibility is a good thing, so which one should prevail here?
Help students to understand that Freedom does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want. It means freedom to do certain things (e.g. freedom to express our opinions; freedom to vote for our preferred candidate in an election) and freedom from some things (e.g. freedom from poverty; freedom from being locked up for no reason). However, Freedom is always backed up by a responsibility.
Have you ever heard people say that they couldn’t be bothered voting? That they don’t think their vote counts?
Some people think that compulsory voting is unfair – that in a free country we shouldn’t be forced to vote. Ask students to consider the following:
What if every voter said that? Or even half the voters? – Could we still call ourselves a democracy? A democracy represents the will of the people, and decisions are made to benefit the majority of the people while making sure minority viewpoints are also considered. How would governments know what the people wanted? They might then make decisions that just suit themselves.
In the following table, candidate A wins, but is supported by only a quarter of the people. Is this democratic?
In the United States in 1960, only 63% of eligible voters turned out to vote. In 1996, under 40% turned out to vote. How democratically elected is the US government? Do citizens who didn’t vote have the right to criticize the government for decisions they don’t like? (Like going to war?)
In Russia, if more than 50% of the people don’t vote, a new election must be held. Is this more democratic, or a form of bribery?
In Australia, more than 90% of voters regularly turn out for elections.
Now test out student understanding with a mock election. Have students nominate two classmates as candidates for a vote on class citizen of the week. Give each student two slips of paper/ballot papers, and explain how they will use them.
For the first vote they have the freedom to do as they want (i.e. vote for one of the candidates or don’t vote for either one – but in this case they must still put a blank slip of paper into the voting box).
In the second round all students must vote for one of the candidates on the other slip of paper, and put these ballot papers in a separate voting box.
Collate the votes for each round, and discuss as follows:
How many votes did the winner get in the first round?
What percentage of the class does that represent?
Would this person feel supported if they didn’t have a majority of votes?
Who got the majority of votes in the second round? (50%+1 at least). Would this person feel that they were able to represent most members of the class?
Which do you think is the best system? Do you think that everyone has a responsibility to vote?
Some people in democracies start to take their form of government for granted, and become complacent about voting. They forget the hundreds of years through which people have fought and died just to have that right. Remind students that voting is a precious right.
Ask students: Have you experienced the situation where a parent or teacher tells you to do something, and you would like to suggest that it could be done differently, but he/she says “I don’t want to hear any arguments about it!”?
How does it feel not to have your say? Consider the following:
Have you heard about Roman Emperors who would feed to the lions anyone who disagreed with them, or French kings who simply said “Off with his head!”?
Do you know about suffragettes? These were women early in the twentieth century who marched for the right to vote, and chained themselves to fences to show that they were serious.
Did you know that after the federation of Australia in 1901, no Aboriginal person was allowed to vote until 1962?
Do you know about the situation in East Timor when the people wanted independence, but Indonesia wanted them to stay within Indonesia? Indonesian-backed militias were using violent means to stop the people, but in 1999 the United Nations made it possible for the people to vote on their future. Despite mountainous country, poor roads, bad communications and the constant threat of violence against them, 98% of registered voters turned out and 78.5% voted for independence. East Timor is now an independent democracy.
In the world today one third of all countries are still not democracies, so people do not have that precious right to have a say in how they are governed.
Would you fight for the right to have your opinion heard? We live in a democracy, and that gives us the right (and freedom) to have our say through the ballot box, so we no longer have to fight for that right. However, we have a responsibility to all those who fought for the right to vote, as well as a responsibility to all our fellow citizens. Voting is a celebration of living in a democratic country. It gives power to all of the people. What does the following quote mean? -
Here each individual is not interested only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well……we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all….
(Pericles, leader of Ancient Athens in 5th century BC)
What do you think of this statement?
Organize for the students to do the original values continuum again. Ask all those who changed their positions from those taken in the original continuum to put up their hands. Ask some to explain why they now think differently.