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Don't forget the States.

As a confirmed believer in the federal system of the United States, I was a bit frustrated at two of the articles in the September [2008] Social Education. In the article, "Ensuring Access to the Ballot Box: Voting Rights in the United States", the authors assert: "the franchise was gradually expanded over the course of the next 200 years, through amendments to the Constitution and by enactment of federal legislation." True such national government action did expand the franchise, but it was also expanded by the actions of the states. For example, the property qualification the authors decry was removed not be any action of the federal government, but by the states during the 1810s and 1820s. The timing of this expansion of the franchise brings me to the second article, "Question: Who Can Vote?", which asserts that "one of the first major events prompting a change in voting regulations was the CivilWar." I suppose one can split hairs over the phrase "major," but I would argue the Jacksonian Revolution, which enfranchised poor whites, was also a major change, and happened decades before the Civil War. When the authors speak of the Nineteenth Amendment "granting women the right to vote," they betray an East Coast bias. Those of us who live and work in the West know that women in Wyoming were voting in state and national elections from the moment the territory achieved statehood. Half a dozen other western states also gave women the franchise before the Nineteenth Amendment required that all states do the same.

I raise these points not simply to nitpick, but to suggest that when we speak of "the government" our students frequently think only of the national government. It bears reminding them that the states exist, not just as dependent provinces of the national government, but as policymaking bodies in their own right. For example, in the set of questions about voting issues, a reasonable one might be, "Who should determine qualifications to vote: the national government or the state governments?" or "Is it fair or just that different states Should set different qualifications?"

--Mark Robinson

World History, AP U.S. History

St. Pius X High School

Albuquerque, New Mexico

The authors of "Ensuring Access to the Ballot Box: Voting Rights in the United States" Respond:

Our article on voting rights in the United States was intended to portray a broad, national overview of the subject. Unfortunately, we were constrained by space limitations and, as such, we were unable to provide an in-depth analysis of the history of voting rights. We chose instead to focus the length of our article on contemporary issues affecting voting rights today. It was not our intent to minimize the actions of states in this important area of the law; in fact, each of our separate analyses on voter identification laws, felon disenfranchisement, and English-only laws specifically references state actions, through legislation or the courts, which have impacted voting rights.

--Elizabeth M. Yang and Kristi Gaines

American Bar Association

Washington, D.C.

The authors of "Question: Who Can Vote?" Respond:

We are pleased that Mark Robinson read and thought about the article we wrote. We agree that most people think about the national government rather than the state and local governments. That is why we mention the state's role six times in the teacher background section and once in the lesson.

In writing and teaching there are trade-offs in decisions. Our decision was to link to the historic possibility that a woman or an African American might be a candidate for the presidency with the notion that such a selection could not always have been a possibility (as both were originally denied the franchise and struggled to gain it). We also wanted to provide a lesson that would help most teachers and students take note of the importance of voting through an examination of the popular vote, because of the controversies surrounding the 2000 and 2004 elections, as well as concerns for accurate counting of the 2008 votes. There have been elections in which the person receiving the popular vote did not become the president; it may happen again that the Electoral College is questioned--in such a case, any subsequent changes would require a constitutional amendment.

The third phase of our lesson, labeled "expansion," builds upon ideas taught in the lesson and provides flexibility and individualization for students and classes by examining additional related issues. We offer several suggestions, but certainly additional questions are likely, including those put forth by Mr. Robinson. In his AP government classes, Mr. Robinson has the advantage of having students with more advanced cognitive knowledge and skill sets than in the vast majority of teachers' classes. AP students might quickly move through the first two phases of the lesson presented, allowing plenty of time to examine multiple issues during the lesson expansion, especially if groups were asked to research issues and report to the class their findings.

--Mary E. Haas and Misty D. Rodeheaver

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

West Virginia University

Morgantown, West Virginia
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Author:Robinson, Mark; Yang, Elizabeth M.; Gaines, Kristi; Haas, Mary E.; Rodeheaver, Misty D.
Publication:Social Education
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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