Teaching election administration … in kindergarten!

Over the years, I’ve been asked to give many public addresses, research presentations, and other public appearances. But few have been to as demanding, and difficult, an audience as I faced this morning — a classroom of 25 kindergarteners!

So here is what we did, which I’d highly recommend as a method of teaching the basics of elections and election administration to kids of this age (it worked really well!).

I brought into the classroom a real voting booth. I painted a small box red, and brought some prepared paper ballots with me to class.

We started off by passing around some ballots I reproduced from Melanie Goodrich’s study of historic paper ballots from the Huntington Library, including two from Lincoln’s 1864 election.

We then read “Duck for President”, which the kids loved!

After that, we got into the process of voting.

I announced the rules of the election. Every kid would have a chance to cast one ballot — for either shiny butterfly stickers or for sports stickers. Here is a photo of the ballots. Once we were done casting ballots, we would count them up, and which ever received the most votes would be the sticker type that all of the students in the class would receive.

I then had two volunteers help me put the ballot booth together, and then two other volunteers helped me tape the red ballot box shut with bright blue tape. I then had a third set of two volunteers help me select small groups from the class to go to the ballot booth and grab a ballot, and then put it in the ballot box.

Finally, two volunteers helped me unseal the box, and then one by one they pulled out the ballots and announced what each ballot was to the class (showing the ballot to the class, of course). One of the teachers helped tabulate the ballots on the board.

Here’s the interesting thing about the result. Despite the fact that there are more boys than girls in the class, the shiny butterflies won — 14 to 11!

The kids had a great time, I had fun, and I think they all learned a little about how democracy works and how elections are run.