The United States implements the strictest felon voting laws in the world. As of 2010, the government denied 5.8 million Americans the right to vote due to criminal activity. Each state enacts its own felon voting laws, where all but two states (Maine and Vermont) have created laws that in some form prevent current or former criminals from voting. Explore KQED’s The Lowdown’s interactive map, created by designer/programmer Lewis Lehe, that shows felon voting laws in each state, along with a percentage of the population in each state that has been impacted.
Map: States Where Felons Can't VoteMap: States Where Felons Can't Vote Includes interactive map The map below, created by designer/programmer Lewis Lehe, shows state-by-state felon voting laws and population impacts as reported by the The Sentencing Project, based on 2010 data.
Students will be able to
- use proportional relationships to solve real-world percentage problems
- interpret percentage as a proportional relationship
- define the terms below
Common Core State Standards: 6.RP.A.3.c, 7.RP.A.3
Vocabulary: Felon disenfranchisement, inmates, parolees, probationers, ex-felons
Materials: Per pair: calculator, pencils; State-by-State Felon Disenfranchisement worksheet
Preparation: Connect with the social studies or civics teacher to determine students’ exposure to topics related to voting in the U.S.; consider teaching the lesson jointly. Investigate requirements for registering to vote in your state. Also, find out the total number of students in the relevant grade at your school.
1. Introduction (10 minutes, whole group)
Begin with a few questions to set the lesson context. Ask students:
- Why do people vote? Why should they vote?
- Do you plan on voting when you’re old enough? Why or why not?
Engage students in sharing what they know about voter eligibility in your state. If possible, discuss this in the context of an upcoming election with which students are likely familiar (e.g., U.S. president or local mayor).
If no one mentions felon disenfranchisement, point out that states vary in whether convicted inmates, parolees, probationers, and ex-felons can vote.
Explain voter eligibility requirements in your state, pointing out any rules that relate to felon disenfranchisement. Invite students to predict:
- the average percentage of felon disenfranchisement across the U.S.
- whether your state is higher or lower than average
Keep in mind, however, that some students may have little sense of either answer.
Tell students that the average rate of felon disenfranchisement in each state is 2.5%. Help make sense of this by asking them to find 2.5% of the number of students in their grade at school; encourage them to use whatever approaches they are comfortable with. Distribute calculators for students to use if needed.
When students find the answer, make sure that they understand why they must round to the nearest whole number. If needed, review the procedure for doing so.
2. Interactive Infographic (10 minutes, pairs)
Have students sit in pairs at computers and launch the infographic. Explain to students that an infographic, or information graphic, is a visual image designed to present complex information quickly and clearly. Ask students to look over the interactive with the following questions in mind: In your state, who can’t vote? What percentage of the voting age population in your state is disenfranchised? What about in [a nearby state with different voting restrictions]?
Next, distribute and review the worksheet.
If any students are having difficulty with (3) and (4), offer a concrete example. For example, suppose State A has a population of 1,000,000 and State B has a population of 10,000,000.
3. Conclusion (5 minutes, whole group)
Ask a few volunteers to share their answers and solution strategies. As you review (3) and (4), highlight the notion that percentage is a relationship between two amounts. It is not an absolute number.
Activity Extension: Have students find current data on disenfranchisement in their state. They should investigate the following questions:
- Has the percentage of disenfranchised people changed since the 2010 data reported on in the infographic?
- Has the total number of disenfranchised people changed?
This activity is based on work developed at TERC.