Cast Your Vote

This lesson focuses on how technology and engineering can impact society, and how poll-taking has been influenced by engineering over time. Students design and build a voting or polling machine out of everyday items, then test and evaluate the effectiveness of the design.

  • Learn about engineering design.
  • Learn about planning and construction.
  • Learn about teamwork and working in groups.

 Age Levels: 8-18

Build Materials (For each team, students may ask for additional materials)

Required Materials

  • Cardboard box
  • Cardboard sheets
  • Scissors
  • Paper clips
  • Hole punch (hand held)
  • Paper
  • Colored pencils or markers
  • Highlighter pen
  • Notebook (for recording results)
  • Non-toxic glue
  • String
  • Cardboard tubes (such as from paper towel or toilet paper rolls)
  • Rubber bands
  • Wire
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tape

Testing Materials

  • Voting machine designs
  • Paper ballots (assume that each group will have to receive, record, and report at least 40 votes)

Materials

  • Voting machine designs
  • Paper ballots (assume that each group will have to receive, record, and report at least 40 votes)

Process

Each student team will have a chance to vote on the other team’s machines/systems.  Students should be sure to respect the systems other teams have developed in the same way they want them to respect theirs.  As they vote on another machine, keep a record of how they personally voted on each issue.  They will also be asked to take an “exit poll” which will allow teams to determine the accuracy of the votes taken.

The teacher may choose to monitor the process for determining the accuracy of each system, or appoint a team of “monitors” to do this task.

Design Challenge

You are a team of engineers who have been given the challenge of designing a reliable voting machine for your classroom.  Your machine must be able to accept at least 20 votes, and accurately record the results.  In addition, the votes must be able to be checked in real time…perhaps by a teacher or a team member viewing the machine from a different angle than the voter.

Criteria

  • Must be able to accept at least 20 votes
  • Must be able to accurately record results
  • Must be able to be checked in real time

Constraints

  • Use only the materials provided
  • May request additional quantities of any of the materials provided
  1. Break class into teams of 2-3.
  2. Hand out the Cast your Vote worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs.
  3. Discuss the topics in the Background Concepts Section. Encourage students to think about how the voter will interact with their design. Will it be sturdy enough to handle the votes of 20 people and still maintain accuracy? They will need to figure out what building materials they require, and develop a sketch of their plan for review by the teacher. Remind them that there is no “correct” design. Engineers come up with all sorts of designs to reach the same goal — their design will be unique because their group did it.
  4. Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials.
  5. Provide each team with their materials.
  6. Explain that students must design and build a reliable voting machine for your classroom. Their machine must be able to accept at least 20 votes, and accurately record the results. In addition, the votes must be able to be checked in real time…perhaps by a teacher or a team member viewing the machine from a different angle than the voter.
  7. Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
  8. Use a timer or an on-line stopwatch (count down feature) to ensure you keep on time. (www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch). Give students regular “time checks” so they stay on task. If they are struggling, ask questions that will lead them to a solution quicker.
  9. Students meet and develop a plan for their voting machine. They agree on materials they will need, write/draw their plan, and present their plan to the class
  10. Teams build their designs.
  11. Test the voting machine designs. Each student team will have a chance to vote on the other team’s machines/systems. Students should be sure to respect the systems other teams have developed in the same way they want them to respect theirs. As they vote on another machine, keep a record of how they personally voted on each issue.  They will also be asked to take an “exit poll” which will allow teams to determine the accuracy of the votes taken.

The teacher may choose to monitor the process for determining the accuracy of each system, or appoint a team of “monitors” to do this task.

  1. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  2. For more content on the topic, see the “Digging Deeper” section.

Optional Extension Activity

Run a mock election in your school, voting on an issue such as how best to reduce the energy consumption of your building. Evaluate what factors such as attendance (who was attending and able to vote), promotion (posters, flyers, campaign materials, and the persuasiveness of those promoting different sides of the argument impact the results.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. Did you succeed in creating a voting machine that could accurately record at least 20 votes? What was your percentage of accurate votes? If you did not reach 100%, what caused the errors?
  2. Did you need to request additional materials while building your machine?
  3. Do you think that engineers have to adapt their original plans during the manufacturing process of products? Why might they?
  4. How did engineers adapt voting machines over time? What prompted some of these changes?
  5. If you had to do it all over again, how would your planned design change? Why?
  6. What designs or methods did you see other teams try that you thought worked well?
  7. Do you think you would have been able to complete this project easier if you were working alone? Explain…
  8. Can you imagine a way that voting might be conducted in the year 2080?
  9. Do you think internet voting is a good idea for national elections? Why or why not?
    (Think about security issues, tampering of votes, etc.)
  10. What engineering considerations are needed in voting systems to accommodate physically challenged voters?

Time Modification

The lesson can be done in as little as 1 class period for older students. However, to help students from feeling rushed and to ensure student success (especially for younger students), split the lesson into two periods giving students more time to brainstorm, test ideas and finalize their design. Conduct the testing and debrief in the next class period.

Divide into teams
Review the challenge and criteria constraints
Brainstorm possible solutions (sketch while you brainstorm!)
Choose best solution and build a prototype
Test then redesign until solution is optimized
Reflect as a team and debrief as a class

Voting Equipment through the Ages

Throughout history, society has needed to gather the opinion of groups of people. The earliest polling was likely verbal, but records were necessary to keep track of decisions made by groups. The first use of paper ballots to conduct an election appears to have been in Rome in 139 BCE, and the first use of paper ballots in the United States was in 1629 to select a pastor for the Salem Church. Disadvantages of this system included lack of privacy. Individuals may have felt required to vote one way or another and not voice their actual opinion.

What is a Voting System?

A voting system is a combination of mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic equipment. It includes the software required to program, control, and support the equipment that is used to define ballots; to cast and count votes; to report and/or display election results; and to maintain and produce all audit trail information. A voting system may also include the transmission of results over telecommunication networks.

Voting Boxes

Simple voting or polling boxes were developed into which people stuffed papers with their opinion indicated in writing. This improved the level of privacy associated with casting an opinion, but did not eliminate it, as handwriting can often give many clues as to who cast the vote. Also, if a standardized voting form was not used, the written information could be open to a variety of interpretations.

Mechanical Voting (Punchcards)

Punchcard systems employ a card (or cards) and a small clipboard-sized device for recording votes. Voters punch holes in the cards (with a supplied punch device) opposite their candidate or ballot issue choice. After voting, the voter may place the ballot in a ballot box, or the ballot may be fed into a computer vote tabulating device at the precinct. Two common types of punchcards are the “Votomatic” card (seen at right) and the “Datavote” card. With the Votomatic card, the locations at which holes may be punched to indicate votes are each assigned numbers. The number of the hole is the only information printed on the card. The list of candidates or ballot issue choices and directions for punching the corresponding holes are printed in a separate booklet. With the Datavote card, the name of the candidate or description of the issue choice is printed on the ballot next to the location of the hole to be punched. In the 1996 U.S. Presidential election, some variation of the punchcard system was used by 37.3% of registered voters in the United States.

Mechanical Systems

Commonly used in the United States until the 1990s (and commonly known as lever machines), direct recording voting systems are mechanical systems to tabulate votes. Commonly, a voter enters the machine and pulls a lever to close the curtain, thus unlocking the voting levers. The voter then makes a selection from a list of switches indicating the candidates or opinion they choose. The machine is configured to prevent doubling of votes by locking out other candidates when one candidate’s switch is flipped. When the voter is finished, a lever is pulled which opens the curtain and increments the appropriate counters for each candidate and measure.

E-Voting

Now, many governments or organizations use computerized or e-voting to gauge the opinion of people on all issues from electing officials to determining community projects such as building a library or repairing roads. Touch screen systems can be adjusted to simplify and clarify the issues to be determined. Drawbacks can be glitches in the software, or loss of electronic data, which can impact the outcome of a poll. In addition, studies have shown that regardless of the technology involved, voters still make mistakes. A recent study indicated that accuracy rates dropped to the 80 to 90 percent range as the polling task became more complicated, such as voting for more than a single candidate in a race, voting a straight-party ticket or making corrections before casting the ballot. In addition, human nature can influence how any voting system works.

The Human Factor

Many people do not like to ask for help. So, whether they are confused on how to pull a lever, punch a card, or use a touch screen, errors will still occur unless help is both requested and available.

Other Considerations

Developers of reliable voting systems must take into consideration:

  • How efficient is the system? How long it take for the average person to vote? Will there be enough time in one day for the population to cast their votes without long lines?
  • Is the system accessible for physically challenged people?
  • How will the system accommodate those who are physically unable to vote in person — for example, those who are travelling to another country, in a hospital, or in a nursing home?

How long will it take for the results to be shared with the population?

Internet Connections

Recommended Reading

  • Voting Technology: The Not-So-Simple Act of Casting a Ballot (ISBN: 0815735634)
  • Point, Click and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting (ISBN: 0815703694)

Writing Activity

Write an essay or a paragraph about how an accidental or deliberate power outage might impact the outcome of an election.

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks 

Note: All lesson plans in this series are aligned to the National Science Education Standards which were produced by the  National Research Council and endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association, and if applicable, also to the International Technology Education Association’s Standards for Technological Literacy or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Principles and Standards for School Mathematics.

National Science Education Standards Grades K-4 (ages 4 – 9) 

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science and technology in local challenges

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science as a human endeavor

National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (ages 10 – 14)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design
  • Understandings about science and technology

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Risks and benefits
  • Science and technology in society

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science as a human endeavor
  • History of science

National Science Education Standards Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design
  • Understandings about science and technology

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Personal and community health
  • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Nature of scientific knowledge
  • Historical perspectives

Standards for Technological Literacy – All Ages

The Nature of Technology

  • Standard 1: Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology. 

Technology and Society

  • Standard 4: Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.
  • Standard 6: Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.
  • Standard 7: Students will develop an understanding of the influence of technology on history.

Design

  • Standard 8: Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.
  • Standard 9: Students will develop an understanding of engineering design.
  • Standard 10: Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving. 

Abilities for a Technological World

  • Standard 13: Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems.

The Designed World

Standard 17: Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use information and communication technologies.

You are a team of engineers who have been given the challenge of designing a reliable voting machine for your classroom.  Your machine must be able to accept at least 20 votes, and accurately record the results.  In addition, the votes must be able to be checked in real time…perhaps by a teacher or a team member viewing the machine from a different angle than the voter.

Research/Preparation Phase

  1. Review the various Student Reference Sheets.

Planning as a Team

  1. Your team has been provided with some “building materials” by your teacher. You may ask for additional materials.
  2. Start by meeting with your team and devising a design and materials plan to build your machine. Think about how the voter will interact with your design. Will it be sturdy enough to handle the votes of 20 people and still maintain accuracy? You’ll need to figure out what building materials you require, and develop a sketch of your plan for review by your teacher. Remember, there is no “correct” design.  Engineers come up with all sorts of designs to reach the same goal — your design will be unique because your group did it!
  3. Write or draw your voting system design in the box below or on another sheet. Include a list of materials you plan to use to build the instrument. Present your design to the class. You may choose to revise your teams’ plan after you receive feedback from class.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Materials Needed:

 

 

 

 

Construction Phase

  1. Build your voting machine. Test it within your group to make sure it accurately records your own votes. Come up with a plan for recording the results.

Cast Your Votes

  1. Each student team will have a chance to vote on the other team’s machines/systems. Be sure to respect the systems other teams have developed in the same way you want them to respect yours. As you vote on another machine, keep a record of how you personally voted on each issue.  You will also be asked to take an “exit poll” which will allow teams to determine the accuracy of the votes taken.

Evaluation Phase

  1. Evaluate your teams’ results, comparing your teacher’s notes on what the votes were to those gathered in your system.
  2. Complete the evaluation worksheet, and present your findings to the class.

Use this worksheet to evaluate your team’s results in the Cast Your Vote lesson:

  1. Did you succeed in creating a voting machine that could accurately record at least 20 votes? What was your percentage of accurate votes? If you did not reach 100%, what caused the errors?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Did you need to request additional materials while building your machine?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Do you think that engineers have to adapt their original plans during the manufacturing process of products? Why might they?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. How did engineers adapt voting machines over time? What prompted some of these changes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. If you had to do it all over again, how would your planned design change? Why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. What designs or methods did you see other teams try that you thought worked well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Do you think you would have been able to complete this project easier if you were working alone? Explain…

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Can you imagine a way that voting might be conducted in the year 2080?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Do you think internet voting is a good idea for national elections? Why or why not? (Think about security issues, tampering of votes, etc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

10.  What engineering considerations are needed in voting systems accommodate physically challenged voters?

 

 

 

 

Lesson Plan Translation

Downloadable Student Certificate of Completion