Constitution Day: How to Meet a Federal Requirement and Help Students Vote

What is Constitution Day?

Constitution Day commemorates the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. According to the US Department of Education, “Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year is required to hold an educational program about the U.S. Constitution for its students.” These events must relate to the Constitution, but have no other requirements, allowing colleges and universities the opportunity to plan their own programs.   This year’s Constitution Day is on Monday, September 17, 50 days before Election Day, and the event’s website is  www.constitutionday.com.  You can check out engagement ideas from the New York Times and American Democracy Project here, from Minnesota Campus Compact here, or read below for more ideas.

Here are some CEEP suggested program ideas drawn from various schools:

Dialogue

  • Host panel discussions featuring local or state political figures to discuss the importance of youth voting or voter ID laws. Include examples of proper voter ID cards that students can bring to the polls.
  • Use CEEP’s Living Room Conversations guide to have meaningful discussions with students about voting or not voting.
  • Follow the model of schools hosting Bagels & Ballots, Donuts & Dialogue, or Politics & A Pint conversations, or town halls with administrators, and hold discussions on voting-related issues.
  • In a well-trafficked area, ask a simple question and ask students to write their response in 6 words (or less). For example, “What does “We the People…” mean to you?”  Have students tape their answers on a publicly visible space, creating a makeshift art project.

 

Voter Education and Registration

  • Pass out pocket Constitutions and have a table where students can register to vote.
  • Contact your local board of elections to host polling machines on campus, and ideally to let students practice with them. This allows first-time voters to know what to expect when going to the polls.
  • Pass out “Commit to Vote” cards and help students create an “Election Day Plan.”
  • Make a table with Election Day trivia – both history of voting and who’s currently on the ballot, along with absentee ballot request forms and registration forms.
  • Host a forum or debate on issues surrounding voting rules, especially if you’re in a state that recently passed Voter ID legislation. You can explore the history of these rules or the arguments for and against recent restrictions.
  • Host a 5K like Philadelphia’s “Dash for Democracy” where volunteers register voters and pass out information on candidates, identification information, and more.
  • Invite local politicians to campus to host a town hall with students. If they have party affiliations make sure not to just invite one party.

 

Constitution Education

  • Act out the Bill of Rights in the “Living Constitution,” and/or wear colonial-era clothing to draw students to your booth.
  • Host a Constitution Movie Marathon or show a film relating to one of the amendments.
  • Create a video with students, staff, and faculty explaining the importance of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and voting.
  • Use the resources at Band of Rights, which has a lot of Constitutional literacy resources.
  • Create a visual space where passersby can respond to questions relating to the Constitution in the context of current events.
  • Use social media networks to post “Fascinating Constitution Facts” or how rights and liberties affect students.
  • Throw a birthday party for the Constitution. Have cake, music, balloons, and other decorations to get students to come to your booth. This can be combined with voter registration, Constitution facts, and other fun events.
  • Utilize the campus radio station, newspapers, and/or digital signage to share history of the Constitution and its relevance for contemporary issues
  • Invite the theater program to put on a Constitution-related play, maybe a shortened production of Hamilton.
  • Host an essay contest with a small prize or scholarship. Publicize the winning essay online.

 

Activities