Hands-on Englishcurrent events activityfor ESL

October 2000
(this election content is generic and is useful for any election, including 2008)

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Dear Instructors:
We wrote this article to give your students an idea of what to expect on Election Day when they go to vote. If your students are not yet citizens, they still may be very interested in how our process works!

Before you read this with your students, you may wish to gather some local information. For example, what is the registration deadline in your state? What hours will the polls be open on Election Day? What are some local offices being contested this year?

Key vocabulary includes: candidate, election, office, ballot, polling place.


Going to vote

Can you vote this November? Before you can vote in a U.S. election, you must be a U.S. citizen. In most states you must register to vote first, sometime before the election. To do this you write your name, address and signature on a form and send it in. Then on Election Day, your name will already be on the list.

Each person has one special voting place. You can't vote anywhere else. This is called your 'polling place.' Usually this place is near your home. It is often in a school or in some other public building. The polling place is open all day on Election Day, from early morning until evening.

When you get there, you might see a lot of people waiting in line to vote. When it's your turn, you say your name, show your i.d. to the poll worker and sign your name in a book. The voting is always private. You go into a small booth. You choose the people you want to vote for. In some places you do this with a machine and in some places you mark these with a pencil.

If you need some help, you can ask a poll worker to help you. But they can't give you advice about who to vote for! That is your decision. Usually, voting only takes a few minutes. Later you can watch the TV news to find out who won the election.

When you see the ballot, it may look very confusing! You will see the Democrat and Republican candidates for President. But there may also be other candidates from other parties on the list. You'll see many offices to vote for, including President, Senator, member of Congress, state legislators, some local offices and even your local school board. How do you decide who to vote for?

It's a good idea to look at the ballot before Election Day, so you can decide how to vote. Your local newspaper may print this ballot a few days before the election. Or you can go to the office of your county Election Commissioner and ask for a copy of the ballot. This office sometimes has a website where you can see a sample ballot and get more information.

If you are a citizen, you can do more than just vote. You can get a job as a 'poll watcher' to help make the election fair. Or you can volunteer to work for a political party to help them win an election. You can also run for office yourself. There is information about how to do this at your county Election Commissioner's office.

How to find your Election Commissioner's office:

• Look in the telephone book. Usually there are some blue pages with government offices listed. First find the section for County Offices, then look under "E" for Election Commissioner. You will find an address and a telephone number. You can call them with a question, or visit their office.

• Look on the internet. Go to www.google.com and type in the name of your county and the office you are looking for. For example, "Lancaster County Election Commissioner." This search should give you the website address for election information in your county.


Here are 5 fact questions and one opinion question.

1. Who can vote?

2. Where can they vote?

3. When can they vote?

4. What can they vote for?

5. How do people vote when they come to the polling place?

6. (Your opinion) Should all citizens vote? Why or why not?



How do you decide who to vote for?

Where can you get information about the candidates?

(Both of these questions have many answers.)

Editor's note: I'd be very interested to hear what you and your students thought of this activity! Thank you! We welcome teaching suggestions.--Anna Silliman.


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