Lesson Plan: To Vote or Not to Vote

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  1. Tell students that in January 2005, there was an election in Iraq to choose representatives for the Iraqi National Assembly that would write the country's new Constitution. Then show them the first ninety seconds (before the opening credits) of the film, My Country, My Country, which begins at 00:42 and shows election day morning in the Baghdad home of a man named Dr. Riyadh and his family. The video clip ends at 02:15 when Dr. Riyadh's son asks, "Dad, are you going to vote?" Ask students what they think Dr. Riyadh should say. Based on what students have seen in the clip, make a class chart of reasons to vote or not vote.
  2. Next, explain that Dr. Riyadh is a medical doctor who strongly believes that the new Iraqi government should be an Islamic democracy. To help make this happen, he decides to become a candidate representing the country's largest Sunni political organization, the Iraqi Islamic Party. Then, three months prior to the election, U.S. forces attack the Sunni city of Fallujah, believed to be the home of a terrorist leader responsible for widespread death and destruction. Many Sunnis, however, see the assault as a deliberate attempt to lower the number of Sunnis who might vote. Members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, including Dr. Riyadh debated whether or not to boycott the election in protest. Have students watch a video clip (see Clip 2, also with subtitles) that includes excerpts of this debate, including the points made by Dr. Riyadh. Ask students to note the main arguments of each speaker that they see in the video. The clip begins at 44:45 after the lottery that assigns a number to the Iraqi Islamic Party for the election. Viewers see a sign for the Iraqi Islamic Party building, followed by an image of men seated and the on-screen words, "Iraqi Islamic Party Election Debate." The first speaker begins, "As we know, religious scholars have agreed..." The clip ends at 47:16 after a speaker says, "What sort of elections are these?" and viewers see Dr. Riyadh sitting and thinking.
  3. Discuss the perspectives presented by each speaker in the video. Add these ideas to the "To Vote or Not to Vote" chart started at the beginning of this activity. Why is Dr. Riyadh opposed to boycotting the election? What does voting represent for him? How does his thinking differ from the other speakers? What do students believe the Iraqi Islamic Party would have to gain by participating in the election? Note student ideas on the "To Vote" side of the chart. Based on watching the clip, ask the students if they have anything to add to the "Not Vote" side of the chart.
  4. Tell students that the Iraqi Islamic Party decided to boycott the election. Given how strongly Dr. Riyadh feels about the importance of political participation, should he separate himself from his party, continue his candidacy and vote anyway? Why or why not? After students discuss this dilemma, let them know that Dr. Riyadh decides to stay loyal to his party, saying, "I will work with them until the last minute of my life."
  5. Write on the board that approximately 8.5 million Iraqis (58 percent of eligible voters) participated in the January 2005 election. Shia parties won almost half the votes (48 percent), Kurds took just over a quarter (26 percent), an alliance led by Iyad Allawi (interim Prime Minister who favored a secular state) garnered about 14 percent, with 12 percent split amongst other parties. Only about 2 percent of the Sunni population voted, a result of ongoing violence and calls for Sunnis to boycott the elections. Ask the students what they would do in the same situation: Would they vote or not?
  6. Have students work in pairs to compare the 2005 Iraqi voter turnout to that in recent American elections, using an article and data table from the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. Since the 1972 election in the U.S., what has been the average percentage of eligible voters who have cast ballots? How does this compare to the January 2005 Iraqi election? Based on the information from the Committee, why don't more Americans vote? Have student pairs record the article's explanations for why some Americans don't vote in a second "To Vote or Not to Vote" chart for the U.S. Then, have students complete the "To Vote" side of their charts with ideas that they brainstorm. What possible solutions can they offer for the "Not Vote" side of their chart?
  7. As a class, evaluate the "To Vote or Not to Vote" charts completed for the U.S. and Iraq. How do reasons for not voting compare between the two countries? What value do students believe each country puts on voting? What is the importance of voting in a democracy?


Frontline/World: Map of Iraq
This map shows the geographic concentrations of Iraq's major ethnic and religious groups.

POV: Why Vote?
This Web site provides a deeper study of voting issues, including a collection of historical essays and speeches on voting, political cartoons, student video clips on voting, discussion board posts about why Americans do or don't vote and more.


Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals.

World History
Standard 44: Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world.

Source: Content Knowledge" by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)