- Suffrage Elimination Dance
I hope that by celebrating the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, we can convince all voters of the importance of not taking this right for granted. Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest in the free world. Less than 56 percent of the voting-age population voted in the 2016 presidential election, and while that turnout represented a slight improvement over the turnout for 2012, it was a worse turnout than for the 2008 election. We should be very worried about what low turnout could mean for the presidential election this fall.
When I teach classes about the suffrage movement in my classrooms, some students “zone out.” Their resigned faces seem to say: “Who cares?” “Suffrage is a minor movement.” “Big deal.” So I play a game with them, based on a 1950s party game called the “Elimination Dance.” In an “Elimination Dance,” a dance caller would announce certain criteria and the dancers who met those criteria would have to sit down: “All those wearing blue socks? Sit down!” “All those whose names begin with A? Sit down!” The dancers left standing at the end are the “winners.” I ask students who are willing to play the game to stand up. Then, I call out the groups that were not eligible to vote a century ago in my jurisdiction and ask students belonging to those groups to sit down: in British Columbia, Canada, these include women, Indigenous/First Nations/Native Canadians, people of Asian ancestry, and many, many more. I don’t have to call out all the criteria that applied one hundred years ago—for example, people under twenty-five and people without $500 worth of property—because after I’ve asked students belonging to the first three or four groups to sit down, in a class of 150 students, there might only be four or five left standing. These people would be the class’s only voters if we lived before women agitated to expand the franchise. And in part because of the precedent of suffragists’ efforts to enfranchise women, other disenfranchised groups were gradually recognized over the next few decades.
When I played this game during the 2015 Canadian Federal election, students were astounded and followed me in droves when I announced that I was heading to a poll station set up on campus, where students living away from home could fill out ballots for whichever constituency they were eligible to vote in—an experimental initiative by Elections Canada. Try the Elimination Dance in your classrooms on Election Day! [End Page 302]