Top of page

Designing a Mock Election in 2012: Lessons from Historical Primary Sources

Share this post:

This is a guest post by Meg Steele, who works with K-12 teachers at the Library of Congress. Sarah Haro, an intern in the Library’s education office, contributed research to this post.

Colonel Albert A. Sprague, Democratic candidate for U. S. Senator from Illinois in 1924, dropping a ballot into a ballot box

Election Day is almost here. While the candidates and campaigns make one last pitch for votes, many classrooms and schools prepare to hold their own mock elections not only to engage students in current events, but also to teach and learn about one of the most important roles of citizens: voting.

When I taught middle school, having my students design and run a mock election was one of my favorite teaching experiences. In 2008, my 8th grade social studies class was in charge—from soup to nuts—and it gave them one of the best real world learning experiences I have ever seen. They were challenged to think deeply about the purposes and goals of the voting process, and then to design and plan each element:  who can vote and when (teachers were denied suffrage!), how people would vote, and what the registration process looked like.

Sample Ballot, 1920

But nothing engaged them more than the task of designing the actual ballot. Though it only had two candidates, it took an entire class period plus homework. The discussion they had was rich—about fairness, visual literacy, communication. Making decisions required deliberation, compromise and focus.

Before your students design their own mock election for 2012, engage them with Election Day primary sources from the past. We’ve gathered resources here to organize your study into three focus areas.

Designing a Ballot

Use these images to consider why ballot design is important to the voting process.

Casting a Ballot

In these images, students can observe how casting a ballot has changed over time, and how it has remained the same. Students may also consider if and how expanded suffrage has changed the voting process.

Counting the Ballots

Processes for counting the votes can be observed in these images. Ask students what roles the people in these images are playing. Encourage them to look for other details that offer additional information about the process.

Use these primary sources to gain and apply insight to your own mock election. Questions to consider include:

  • What do the primary sources suggest about how these elements of Election Day can contribute to the success or failure of your own mock election?
  • What don’t the images show? What other questions do you have?
  • What surprised you about Election Day as seen through these primary sources?
  • What primary sources will help future generations understand Election Day 2012?

What do you see in these primary sources? How else could you use primary sources to teach about Election Day and/or run a mock election?


  1. Excellent post! Useful. Concrete. Specific. Thought-provoking. Perhaps the best yet.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.