Democracy and voting in the ACT
Inquiry: What is democracy in Australia and why is voting in a democracy important?
Unit length: Four (4) lessons
- Students will be able to define ‘democracy’ and identify words that describe the values of a democracy.
- Students will be familiar with concepts related to election campaigns, political parties, standing as a candidate, Australian parliamentary elections, and voting.
- Students will understand who can vote, why we vote to make decisions and electoral concepts including secret ballot, compulsory voting and preferential voting.
- Students will have gained practical experience in voting and participated in scrutiny which mirroring how voting works in the ACT territory elections.
- The key values that underpin Australia’s democracy (ACHASSK115)
- The key features of the electoral process in Australia (ACHASSK116)
- The roles and responsibilities of electors and representatives in Australia’s democracy (ACHCK023)
- Interact with others with respect to share points of view (ACHASSI059)
- Examine primary and secondary sources to determine their origin and purpose (ACHASSI098)
- Using criteria to make decisions and judgements and consider advantages and disadvantages of preferring one decision over others (ACHASSI103)
- Present ideas, findings, viewpoints and conclusions in a range of texts and modes that incorporate source materials, digital and non-digital representations and discipline-specific terms and conventions (ACHASSI105)
- Use a range of software including word processing programs with fluency to construct, edit and publish written text, and select, edit and place visual print and audio elements (ACELY1707)
Resources you'll need for this unit:
The lesson plans are designed to be completed after students have read the story (or viewed the film/play) as they will need to be familiar with the characters and plot to understand and complete the activities.
Learning objective: By the end of the lesson the students will have defined ‘democracy’ and identified words that describe the values of a democracy.
Curriculum links: ACHASSK115, ACHASSI103, ACHASSI105
- Mrs Crumb is standing for election to be a member of the parliament—rules based on Mrs Crumb’s policies pg 84 (Teacher could read a few of these out to provide context to new class rules).
- Provide the list of new class rules to students (resource one).
Scenario 1 (undemocratic): Teacher to take role of a class dictator. These are the rules, read through them, students must obey.
Whole class discussion—suggested prompt questions:
- How would the rules impact your lives?
- The teacher sets all the rules, students have no say, how does this make you feel?
Scenario 2 (democratic): Teacher proposes the same set of rules.
There is a class discussion on the rules—prompt questions:
- Where do rules come from?
- How can we influence and/or change class rules?
- Do you agree with the new class rules? Why or why not?
- Are the class rules fair? Why or why not?
At the conclusion of discussion have the students vote with a show of hands to indicate if they agree or disagree with the proposed new class rules. Discuss why having a vote is important for deciding class rules.
Introduce the concept of democracy—explain the origin of the word ‘democracy’ (from the Greek language). It combines two shorter words: demos meaning people and kratos meaning power or rule.
What is the opposite of democracy? Introduce the concepts of undemocratic (scenario 1) and democratic (scenario 2). Discuss which scenario students prefer, the disadvantages and advantages of each scenario, why they preferred a particular scenario.
Teacher to explain why democratic principles don’t necessarily always apply in classrooms/schools:
- voting is allowed when people turn 18 years of age, it’s important for adults to make decisions in the best interests of children; and
- All societies have rules which citizens (children and adults) obey to maintain order and stability (for example schools and workplaces).
In small groups or pairs, distribute worksheet one and have students discuss and highlight which items in the list are democratic or undemocratic. Using the worksheet each group/pair writes a sentence of what democracy means to them.
Match different systems of government to their meanings (worksheet two).
Each group to report on their definition, can the class agree on a definition of democracy (a system of government where people have a say on who governs them). Class to discuss the words that they think describe the values of a democracy (freedom, fairness, equality and justice).
Learning objective: By the end of the lesson students will have explored concepts related to election campaigns, political parties, and standing as a candidate. Students will design a campaign poster.
Curriculum links: ACHASSK116, ACHASSI098, ACHASSI105, ACELY1707.
Class discussion on elections to establish prior learning—suggested prompt questions to identify election terms:
- Who can become a member of parliament? (To become a member you must be over 18, an Australian citizen and be eligible to vote (living) in the ACT.)
- How do people become a member of parliament? (By standing as a candidate.)
- What is a political party? (An organisation that represents a particular group of people or set of ideas.) Do you have to be a member of a party to be elected? (No.)
- How do you know who to vote for? (election campaign and party/candidate policies).
In small groups, students examine the campaign poster for Duchess (resource two). Identify features of the poster (party or independent branding, a slogan, candidate information and election policies). Groups to report back on features they have found and identify common features between groups. Teacher to reinforce features and design of a campaign poster (resource three).
Students use the template (resource four) to design a poster for one of the characters in Mr Stink, suggestions include but not limited to:
- Mrs Crumb,
- Mr Stink, or
- Raj (the shop owner).
Draw a picture of the candidate or an image related to one of their policies, include a slogan, a few personal facts and at least two things (policies) that the character would do if elected.
Lesson alternative for during an election year
- Prior to the lesson students to collect real examples of brochures from an election campaign (home letter box delivery) or undertake research to locate election material.
- Create the poster using a word processing software program.
- Students create the poster with themselves as the candidate rather than characters from Mr Stink.
- Use the posters as a starting point for students to develop their ideas to help write their speech to be school captain (if applicable to year 5 students in your school).
Identify other forms of communication that candidates might use to help them get elected (e.g. advertising on radio/TV, social media, in person at a shopping centre or doorknocking).
Poster can be hung in the classroom, discussion based around how the posters would impact on how they would vote, what elements of the posters are influencing their voting decisions.
Learning objective: By the end of the lesson, the students will have explored concepts relating to Australian parliamentary elections and voting. Students will have gained an understanding of who can vote, why we vote to make decisions and electoral concepts including secret ballot, compulsory voting and preferential voting. These concepts will be explored by focusing on how voting works in the Australian Capital Territory in relation to electing members to the Legislative Assembly for the ACT.
Curriculum links: ACHASSK116, ACHCK023.
Teacher to ask students to think of a time when they have voted for something or someone. In pairs or small groups students reflect on voting as a way of making decisions by looking at elections they may have participated in. After filling in the think-pair-share activity sheet (resource five) students can share their findings with the class.
Teacher led discussion on the topic of voting using questions/discussion points drawn from think-pair-share activity (resource five):
- Who could or couldn’t vote? Do you have to be a certain age to vote?
- Was everyone allowed to vote?
- Did the election seem fair? Did everyone get an equal say? Could you vote more than once? Did you have to pay to vote? (Phone or app voting for TV shows etc.)
- Was it a secret? Is secrecy important—why or why not? How did you feel when it was not a secret? Did it change how you might have voted?
- Was it compulsory to vote? (Discuss the meaning of compulsory.)
Teacher to provide background information on voting in parliamentary elections in Australia. Explain the three levels of government (the Legislative Assembly does the work of both state and local government).
Teacher to explain that (use scenarios outlined in resource six to assist):
- There are different ways to vote in elections depending on where you live. For example, some countries have ‘first past the post’ voting systems (where the candidate that gets the most votes wins). The disadvantage of first past the post voting is that it isn't always fair (resource six).
- In Australian parliamentary elections preferential voting is used to elect politicians. This means that we are able to show our preferences for different candidates on the ballot paper (resource 6).
- Ask students to explain what a preference for something means (liking one thing more than another, liking various things in an order).
- When we vote using preferential voting, we use numbers on the ballot paper to show our preferences. If your first preference candidate does not get enough votes to be elected they will be eliminated from the counting (this is called 'excluding'). However, the people who voted for that candidate still get a say. We look at their ballot papers to see who their number two preference was and we give their vote to that candidate. This helps candidates to get more votes and, if they get enough, to win.
- Another kind of voting system is called the proportional representation system.
- Ask students to explain what a 'proportion' of something is, (a fraction of something). A proportional representation system of voting is used when there is more than one vacancy that needs to be filled. A candidate has to get a set proportion of the votes, called a quota, in order to win a seat. The proportion of seats that parties and candidates win is in proportion to the amount of support they have from the voters. So if 50% of the voters support a particular party, then that party should receive approximately 50% of the seats in the election.
- In the ACT we use the Hare-Clark voting system to elect the Members of the Legislative Assembly as we are electing five members to represent us from each electorate
- Hare-Clark is a proportional representation voting system that uses preferential voting where voters are asked to show which candidates they prefer by numbering them.
- In the next lesson students will be voting for the characters from Mr Stink in the same way as members of the Legislative Assembly are elected in the ACT.
Practice preferential voting by using this ballot papers activity available on the Elections ACT website in preparation for the Mr Stink election lesson to follow and watch this video [2 minutes 35 seconds, Source: Elections ACT].
Learning objective: By the end of the lesson the students will have gained practical experience in voting and participated in the counting (scrutiny) mirroring how voting works in the ACT Legislative Assembly election.
Curriculum links: ACHASSK116, ACHCK023.
Resources: Election kit (resource seven).
Teacher to explain that today is election day and set the scene. Ask:
- What day of the week is it? (Saturday.)
- Where might you go to vote? (Local schools/community halls are used as polling stations.)
- How will you know it is election day? (Information on television, in the newspapers, online, social media etc.)
- Who can vote? (You must be over 18, an Australian citizen, and enrolled to vote.)
- If you cannot attend a polling station to vote on election day, can you still vote? (Yes, cast a pre-poll vote in the three weeks before the election, or cast a postal vote. Polling officials also provide mobile voting—retirement villages and nursing homes.)
- How often is an ACT Legislative Assembly election held? (Every four years on the third Saturday in October.)
Show students the ballot paper. You can use the example attached (resource seven) or make your own. Explain:
- Just like an ACT Assembly election, the candidates are grouped in columns under their party name.
- The instructions on the ballot paper tell you what to do. Reiterate using numbers only, that there can only be one “number 1”.
- Explain what makes a vote “formal” versus “informal” (resource seven).
Hold your election (resource seven): Appoint a number of students as polling officials to assist with the election. You will need a ballot box guard, a queue controller, and two polling officials to give out the ballot papers. Instruct students to:
- Get name marked off the electoral roll
- Go to a voting screen
- Fill out the ballot paper
- Fold the ballot paper and put it in the ballot box
When everyone has voted (including officials) ask your ballot box guard to bring the ballot box to the front of the room. Next count the votes by following the counting the votes checklist. Declare the winners.
Students examine the reasons for compulsory voting and think critically about the responsibility this requires. Explore the concept of what 'compulsory' means by having the students name some things that are compulsory for them to do (for example, go to school, wear seat belts, wear bike helmets). Do they think these things are a good idea?
In ACT Assembly elections everyone who is eligible to vote has to do so, do they think this law is a good idea or not? (Same as for all three levels of government in Australia.)
Divide the class into groups of those in favour of compulsory voting and those not in favour. Provide time for the students to write down their ideas. Have the students nominate people as speakers for the group and others to make posters to support the ideas. This online activity may be helpful.
Ask students to reflect:
- on the candidates they gave preferences to, ask them to put up their hand if not one of the candidates they voted for was elected; and
- if this was a Legislative Assembly election and none of the candidates you voted for was elected, does this mean there are no members representing you? (i.e. that there no members that you can contact if you have a problem, or a suggestion that the government could help with?) (No, it is a member's job to represent you whether you voted for them or not, and they can't know if you voted for them because of secret voting.