FOR THE WEEK OF NOV. 06, 2006
U.S. elections are this week's hottest topic
Election news resembles sports coverage in a way. Both use similar language (tight contest, come from behind, neck-and-neck, down to the wire) and also often assume familiarity with the topic. Your class can be a "test lab" to see whether political reports are clear and give enough background for readers below voting age.
Newspapers go beyond telling who won and lost elections. Challenge students to find references to broader subjects -– such as campaign spending, attack ads, the Iraq war, the president, early buzz about candidates to succeed him -- in articles, columns, editorials and cartoons.
Ask future voters to discuss election turnout, which was expected to be about 45 percent or lower in most states. Just over half (55 percent) of voting-age Americans cast ballots in the 2004 presidential election. Invite pupils to suggest ways to boost participation and reasons to do so.
Americans who are 18 or older on Tuesday can use their power to make democracy work. They have an opportunity – or a responsibility, to put it another way – to vote for men and women who’ll represent them in Congress, in state Capitols, on city councils and on township boards. Election Day also involves state ballot proposals about gay marriage, taxes, hunting, affirmative action, minimum wage levels, abortion and other hot-button issues.
There are big political stakes for national leadership, even though the next president won’t be picked until 2008. This midterm election (which refers to the middle of a president’s four-year term in office) fills all 435 U.S. House seats and 33 of the 100 U.S. Senate spots. Republicans now have a majority in both parts of Congress, but stay tuned – that could change.
This paper’s front page and home page Wednesday morning will show whether Democrats gained control of at least one house of Congress by winning 15 additional House seats or six more in the Senate. The party with a majority of seats fills leadership positions – such as Speaker of the House – and all committee chairmanships in any chamber it controls. That affects legislation, hearings and political maneuvering for 2008.
Impact on Congress: If Democrats win a majority in the House or Senate, it will be harder for President Bush to earn passage of legislation he wants. Also, if the party balance changes in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California becomes the first female House Speaker – placing her just behind the vice-president in the presidential line of succession.
State issues to watch: Voters around the country will set state policies with choices on 79 initiative questions -- the third-largest number since 1902, when ballot proposals first were put before voters in this country. Labor unions and their allies pushed proposals to increase the minimum wage in six states. Christian conservatives campaigned for gay marriage bans in eight states.
Accuracy concerns: Many voters will touch a screen to cast ballots, rather than using a punch card or filling out a form to scan. Officials insist the new technology is secure and reliable, but questions persist about electronic voting equipment that lacks a backup “paper trail.” Skeptics say votes may be changed or lost, or voters could cast multiple ballots. This could come about through hacking or other program manipulation, through technology failure or because election workers are confused by changes. About one-third of voters will use new equipment.
Front Page Talking Points Archive