GEMS Innovation Lab Students Design Solutions for the Problem of Voter Participation

Like many schools around the country, Georgia Elementary Middle School recently held a mock election to engage students in the democratic process. Mock elections not only reinforce citizenship skills, but they can also be an opportunity for students to investigate authentic problems and propose solutions.

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Seventh and eighth graders in Mr. Hadd’s Solving Problems With Design Thinking choice class used the mock election to test several solutions they designed to address the problem of decreasing voter participation in our country.

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The class was designed with the project-based learning (PBL) methodology developed by the Buck Institute for Education (BIE). Last summer Middle School Teachers participated in a three-day training with a BIE Instructor resulting in the creation of dynamic PBL units.

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Following the design thinking process the class first worked together to understand the factors associated with low voter participation in the United States. Students conducted interviews, collected statistics, and researched numerous existing proposals for addressing the problem.

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Students then drafted their own solutions on large format chart paper. Each solution was broken down into a rationale, steps, resources, and expected outcomes. The solutions were shared in a gallery walk activity. In the gallery walk, students reviewed all the solutions presented and left both questions and feedback with sticky notes. A wide range of solutions were presented including:

  • Online voting
  • Bringing voting to the people
  • Extended voting days and times
  • Making voting mandatory
  • Putting candidate positions and information on the ballot
  • Making election day a holiday
  • Weekend voting

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In the end, students reflected on all the proposals before choosing to move forward with a few of the ideas.

“People who don’t vote are actually voting for whoever wins the election.” – 7th Grade Student

Perhaps the largest component of the solution design was the creation of an online voting system that would keep votes anonymous, but also keep the process secure.  To address these needs, the class created unique codes that would be used to verify that each vote was cast by a GEMS Student according to the election rules while also allowing only one vote per student.

A sample voting slip with a PIN number for secure online voting. The codes we used also contained a letter.

A sample voting slip with a PIN number for secure online voting. The codes we used also contained a letter.

The students also created a voting portal to access the online ballot.  Classroom teachers in grades 3-8 were provided with slips of paper which included the voting code or PIN number, directions for accessing the portal, and a QR code to provide another access option.

Sections of the ballot contained basic candidate information.

Sections of the ballot contained basic candidate information.

The online ballot was designed to be visual as well as informational with pictures of the candidates and some basic biographical information. The student research concluded that a lack of accurate information about the candidates can sometimes be a significant obstacle to voting. Political advertisements and even news stories can be very confusing to many potential voters. By providing some basic information about the candidates, the class was hoping to make the process more comfortable and increase participation.

Voting in 4th grade.

Voting in 4th grade.

In addition to online voting, the students also decided to hold the mock election over 4 days.  Providing this flexibility to teachers and students was another attempt to get a higher level of participation. The system accepted votes through Friday, November 4th and results were announced on Monday, November 7th in advance of the general election.

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Sections of the ballot contained basic candidate information.

GEMS Grades  3-8 Mock Election Results

Total votes: 278

President

Trump: 97

Clinton: 89

Governor

Scott: 176

Minter: 66

Senator

Leahy: 174

Milne: 99

Representative

Welch: 238

Clawson: 35

7th and 8th grade students assist 4th graders with the online voting system.

7th and 8th grade students assist 4th graders with the online voting system.

The design-thinking process continues beyond the election as the class collects feedback and evaluates the outcomes of the solution design. The students are also planning for how their solution could be adapted for use in other situations where secure and anonymous online voting might be beneficial.

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