EL Civics for ESL Students

Democracy Lesson

EL Civics History and Government
Acropolis on a Hill in Athens, Greece

Voting Booths for a U.S. Election

U.S. Congress


1. The Iroquois Indians had a democratic government that practiced separation of powers and majority rule. Women were allowed to participate, and they had real powers.

2. American democracy was heavily influenced by Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Europe.

3. Democracies have competitive elections. Candidates compete to get the most votes.

4. Some people can't vote because of citizenship status, age, mental capacity, or criminal convictions.

5. Until passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961, residents of the District of Columbia couldn't vote for the President and Vice-President.

  • "Democracy" is Greek and means rule by the people.
  • "Demos" means people and "kratos" means rule or strength.
  • Citizens in a representative democracy elect people to represent them.
  • These representatives listen to the people, but they also exercise their own judgment when making decisions.
  • Majority rule means that decisions which receive the most votes are binding on the whole group.
  • The right to vote is the most important right citizens have.
  • The right to vote in the United States was denied to many groups like women and African Americans.
  • African American men got the right to vote in 1870. Women got the right to vote fifty years later in 1920. And 18 year olds got the right to vote in 1971.
  • These groups fought for the right to vote.
  • To protect democracy and prevent tyranny, the U.S. government is divided into three branches. Each branch has separate and independent powers--although there is much mingling of responsibilities.
  • The three branches of the American government are the legislative, executive, and judicial.
  • Citizens in a democracy have more rights than in other forms of government.
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