Teaching the Midterms

Every two years, in between presidential elections, American voters take part in midterm elections. All members of the House of Representatives, one-third of the senators, and many of our states’ governors are elected during the midterms. That is in addition to the numerous county, district, and local offices on the ballot. Additionally, the midterm elections, just like the general elections, are opportunities for voters to make direct decisions in local matters through referendums, initiatives, and recalls.

Historically, midterm elections have had lower voter turnout, except for between 1832 and 1838. Our most recent midterm elections yielded a 50% voter turnout compared to 60.1% in 2016. The 2020 presidential election had a 66.2% turnout. What will be the rate for this November’s midterms? These trends and historical questions are so much fun to explore with students.

Any teachers of civics, government, or history can go deep into these topics with students. Compelling questions like “Do midterm elections matter?” can send your class into an exciting inquiry on the historical events, impacts, and trends that shape our voting patterns. As civic educators, we have the chance and the duty to make sure our students have a rich understanding of our governmental processes and structures and the role they can play in informing governmental decisions.

The Center has many resources for you to use as you engage your students in inquiries and dialogues about the midterm elections. Whether you are looking for quick bell-ringer activities, sources for open or guided inquiry, or direct connections to We the People or Project Citizen, check out the curated podcasts, videos, readings, and lessons below.

If you have 5 minutes…

Use these 60-Second Civics podcasts with the quiz at the beginning and/or end of each class or anytime you want students to have a little fun learning about a specific aspect of our voting rights and history or the elections process.


Political Participation

Elections have consequences. If you want a say in the political future of our nation, it is up to you to get involved. Luckily, there are many ways to accomplish this. Listen to learn how!

Referendum and Recall
Ballot Initiatives
One Person, One Vote
The Importance of a Peaceful Transition of Power
Voting, Registration, and Participation

The states make many decisions regarding voting rights, and most states require citizens to register before voting. Although voter turnout has surged in the 2020 presidential election, in recent years there has been a steady decline in voter participation in elections.

Noncitizen Voting
How the Electoral College Works
What Happens in an Electoral College Tie?
Elections in Colonial America


Shootings Gave Twenty-sixth Amendment Renewed Urgency

Two incidents in 1970 galvanized the movement to lower the voting age to eighteen: the Kent State and Jackson State shootings of anti-war demonstrators.

"Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote"
Cultural Context of the Twenty-sixth Amendment
Oregon v. Mitchell
Vietnam and the Twenty-sixth Amendment
The Twenty-sixth Amendment

The Twenty-sixth Amendment mandates that federal and state legislatures not interfere with the right to vote of citizens eighteen years of age or older in federal, state, and local elections.

Shelby County v. Holder
The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Prelude to the Voting Rights Act
Removing Obstacles to Native American Voting
Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

In several states, Native Americans are viewed as an increasingly important voting bloc. Only in 1924 did the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 extend the right to Native Americans, but the states continued to block Native access to the polls until at least 1965.

Native American Citizenship and Voting
The Nineteenth Amendment
The Slow March of Women's Suffrage
State Voting Rights for Women
Equal Voting Rights for Women

The road to winning the right to vote for women was long, and suffragists faced many setbacks.

Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments
Literacy Tests
Civil Rights Act of 1866
The Fifteenth Amendment

Historical Challenges to Voting

Voting and Property

Thomas Paine, with his characteristically sharp wit, pointed out some problems with the property requirement for voting.

The Importance of a Peaceful Transition of Power
Election Security with David Levine
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Dorr Rebellion

Rhode Island was the only state after 1840 that did not have universal enfranchisement of white men. So, Thomas Wilson Dorr convened a "People's Convention" to draft a new state constitution that allowed all white men to vote. This led to a brief civil war in the state.

Cultural Context of the Twenty-sixth Amendment

If you have 10 minutes…

Use our videos from The Constitution EXPLAINED series to explore the Constitutional underpinnings related to voting and elections. Play each 2–4-minute video once, then ask an inquiry question. Play a second time and discuss.

If you have a class period…

Use our videos from the The Constitution EXPLAINED series to explore the Constitutional underpinnings related to voting and elections. Use the videos above and have different groups of students dive into the compelling question “Do voting rights matter?” by exploring how voting rights were won for different groups of people (all men, women, young people, D.C., taxing). As a whole class, explore how the addition of new groups of voters have changed the political landscape and how they can affect the outcome of elections.

And utilize these fun and engaging lessons, contents, and supplementary materials related to elections and voting found in We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution and in the Project Citizen teacher's edition!

If you teachWe the People Level 1We the People Level 2We the People Level 3

If you teachProject Citizen Level 1Project Citizen Level 2

Project Citizen Level 2

Project Citizen Level 2 Form 1: Participation in Democracy

Project Citizen Level 2 (Teacher's  guide) Contents. Chapter 4. Why is Citizen Participation important to Democracy? Pg.65

Project Citizen Level 2 (Teacher's  guide) Supplementary Materials. C1. Alternative Activity Chart Concepts of American Government. Pg.117

Project Citizen Level 1

Project Citizen Level 1. 3rd Edition (Teacher's  guide) Contents. Chapter 4. What are your Rights and Responsibilities in Our Democracy? Pg.35

Project Citizen Level 1. 3rd Edition (Teacher's  guide) Student Handouts. 2a. Main Parts of Your Community’s Government? Pg.59

Project Citizen Level 1. 3rd Edition (Teacher's guide) Student Handouts. 2b. Main Parts of Your States Government? Pg.59

Project Citizen Level 1. 3rd Edition (Teacher's guide) Student Handouts. 2c. Main Parts of Your National Government? Pg.59

Additional voting lessons from the Center for Civic Education

Other awesome resources…

League of Women Voters

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