Lesson Plan: The Expansion of Voting in the United States

Voters in the Early United States

Michael Waldman talked about the history of voting rights in the U.S. and who could originally vote when the nation was founded.


In the United States, the right to vote has evolved since the ratification of the Constitution. Beginning with the narrow population allowed to vote in the 18th century, the people who could vote and what they were able to vote on has grown. This lesson explores the expansion of voting rights in the United States through different Constitutional amendments and laws. It also applies these lessons to current issues relating to voting such as voter ID laws, felons and voting rights for the District of Columbia.


  • WARM-UP:

    Have the students answer the following question before start class.

    • Who can vote in the United States?
    • Who cannot vote in the United States?

    Have the students view the introductory video and answer the questions below.

    Video Clip: Who Could Vote in the Early United States (1:15)

    • Describe the Americans who could vote at the nation's founding. Who was not included?
    • What did Thomas Jefferson mean by "Government is only legitimate if it rests on the consent of the governed?" How does that principle relate to expanding voting?

    Discuss the students' responses to the introductory video. Pass out the Expansion of Voting Handout (Google Doc). Have the students view each of the videos and use the chart on the handout to take notes on each event and the historical context behind each expansion of voting.

    Video Clip: 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments (4:32)

    Video Clip: The 17th Amendment and the Direct Election of Senators (2:59)

    Video Clip: Women's Suffrage and the 19th Amendment (1:57)

    Video Clip: Poll Taxes and the 24th Amendment (1:04)

    Video Clip: Voting Rights Act (4:33)

    Video Clip: The Passage of the 26th Amendment (3:09)


    Have the students view the following videos about current examples of restrictions to voting. For each video clip, have the students complete the second part of the chart on the handout and come up with reasons for and against these restrictions.

    Video Clip: Washington, D.C. Voting Rights Amendment (1:37)

    Video Clip: State Voting Restrictions (1:54)

    Video Clip: Felony Convictions and Voting Rights (2:51)


    Using the information from the videos, respond to the following prompt.

    • Summarize the history of voting rights in the United States. Using specific examples, should the United States expand voting rights beyond what it currently provides?

    Timeline- Create a timeline of the events that expanded voting in the United States. Additional Writing Prompts-

    • Should the voting age be lowered to 16 years old? Why or why not?
    • Which specific expansion of voting rights had the most impact?
    • Has the United States lived up to Thomas Jefferson's statement that "Government is only legitimate if it rests on the consent of the governed?"

Additional Resources


  • Amendments
  • Civil Rights
  • Constitution
  • Draft
  • Enfranchise
  • Felony
  • Literacy Test
  • Poll Tax
  • Reconstruction
  • Selective Service
  • Senate
  • Vietnam War
  • Voter Identification Laws
  • Voting Right Act Of 1965
  • Women


Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesU.S. History


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