Teaching a class, “The 2016 Presidential Election: The Fight to Vote in American History,” in the JCI Scholars Program presented me with a unique opportunity to view the recent election through the eyes of a forgotten voting block – the incarcerated. The experience was a rich and rewarding one. Students were well prepared for class and demonstrated a deep understanding of the candidates and issues. They had strong opinions and did not hesitate to voice them, all the while adhering to the agreed upon guidelines that discussions be conducted respectfully and supported with facts.
To put the 2016 election into perspective, we read Whistlestop, in which author John Dickerson writes about some of the more colorful presidential campaigns of the past. In discussing the book, the class concluded the Clinton-Trump contest we witnessed this year was without precedent. Like most of us, the students did not anticipate a Trump victory, however they were able to identify some of the key reasons for his victory.
The class expressed particular interest in the purpose of the Electoral College. They had a spirited discussion on the pros and cons of deciding the presidency based on the vote of the Electoral College versus the popular vote.
What impressed me most was the students’ willingness to ask questions. They were not hesitant to ask for clarification or confirm the accuracy of information when they were confused about an issue or something the candidates said. I feel confident they have the interest and the skills to be well-informed voters upon their release.