Staff Picks Nov. 2017 | Ballot Boxing: Winning and Losing the Right to Vote

| November 20, 2017

[Joe Shlabotnik | Flickr]

[Joe Shlabotnik | Flickr]

Despite persistent hand-wringing about the state of our democracy, Americans are relatively ambivalent about one of its foundational institutions. With the notable exception of 2008, voter turnout in presidential elections has been on a steady decline since the 1960s. This is despite the expansions to the franchise that followed the passage of the Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, and the 26th Amendment in 1971, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.  This November’s collection limns the forces that have made voting illegal, undesirable, or irrelevant for major segments of the U.S. citizenry over time.

A white supremacist Democratic Party campaign poster from Pennsylvania, 1866, promoting Hiester Clymer's candidacy against John W. Geary. [Wikipedia | Library of Congress]

A white supremacist Democratic Party campaign poster from Pennsylvania, 1866, promoting Hiester Clymer’s candidacy against John W. Geary. [Wikipedia | Library of Congress]

Civic Literacy Through Curriculum Drama, Grades 6-12, a terrific resource with an underwhelming cover, did not make it into the collection. Nevertheless, its premise- that dramatic conventions can help learners understand American electoral politics and government- is also a useful lens for viewing the collection. Books like The Good Citizen, Why We Vote, and Democracy for Realists set the stage and provide background, exposition, and motives for political characters. The central conflict- the fight for suffrage and beyond that, political representation- has featured a varied cast, some with stubbornly recurring roles or role reversals. Among the protagonists have been African Americans (see the curriculum kit Struggle for Black Voting Rights, or the YA biographies Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth be Told and Fannie Lou Hamer: Fighting for the Right to Vote), women (the poster collection Woman’s Suffrage: The Fight for Equality, or the book With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman’s Right to Vote), and young people (although their demands generally landed outside of the realm of electoral politics, see Manifesto Addressed to the President of the United States from the Youth of America, a collection of essays by teens and twenty-somethings, published shortly before the voting age was lowered to 18). The drive to curtail the franchise has mobilized a more motley set of antagonists (see the award-winning YA book They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, the curriculum kit A History of Political Parties in America, or The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America for a general accounting of the many ways voting is undermined). And of course, every election presents its own contained dramas.

As Vice Chair of President Trump's Commission on Election Integrity, Kansas Secretary of State Kris K. Kobach has argued that voter fraud is rampant.

As Vice Chair of President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity, Kansas Secretary of State Kris K. Kobach has argued that voter fraud is rampant.

 

It was just over a week ago that New York voters reprised our roles in state and local political theatre, this time with less melodrama than 2016. We overwhelmingly voted against rewriting the state constitution (meaning that Education and the 1967 Constitutional Convention will remain among the publications from the most recent Convention), and a twenty year low in voter turnout produced no upsets in the city races (check eBooks New York City Politics: Governing Gotham and Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City[…] for insight).

Like many Americans, I’ve been agnostic about the impact of voting on American democracy. Curating this collection did not change that, but it did make me think more deeply about the nature of democracy, civics education, and what it means to be a citizen- hopefully it has provoked similar reflection for you!

Additional Print Resources in our Collection

E-Resources

And check out this month’s featured databases for Politics and Education.


 

On Exhibit
U.S., General

New York State

New York City