The students experience a simulation of a referendum voting at school.


  • to explore the political aspect of diversity
  • to brainstorm on methods and mechanisms which should support a “voting system”
  • to identify the difference between policy, politics and referendum
  • to experience the procedures of voting during a referendum

Material needed

  • voting ballots and voting boxes
  • pens/markers
  • markers for marking the fingers of those who voted
  • flipchart or desk top
  • signs to visualize the voting results
  • two or more tables, separated with pinboards (at the sides and in front of the table), as polling booths (some space in front of the table for people to stand in a row)


Prepare the room setup (chairs in a circle for introduction and discussion, tables with pinboards as polling booths).

Step by step description

1. Introduction

At the beginning of the session, participants are invited to get engaged with the term ‘politics’. They are asked to list the first words that come to their minds when they hear the word ‘politics’ (associations). It can be expected that the majority of the associational words would be negative. If this is the case, taking the attention of participants to this negativity would be important. Make sure to identify the difference between the terms ‘politics’ and ‘policy’ (for more information see this online-glossary).

Then participants are asked to respond to the question ‘Who does politics?’. While collecting the answers, it is important to ensure that ‘people do politics’ also gets into the list as this is the link with the referendum simulation to happen.

Ask participants if they have ever participated in a closed voting. Let them share their experiences on how closed voting works. Why is it important that voters should be alone in the booth? Who secures the voting box? What are the methods to make sure that the same person does not vote twice?

2. Simulation of the referendum – voting (15 minutes)

Explain to the group that a simulation of a referendum at school will take place. The school board is holding a referendum to decide on their policy regarding the use of cell phones at school by students. The referendum is open to the participation of students, teachers and school staff. The referendum question is the following:

„Should students be allowed to use their cell phones at school, whereever and whenever?“


The answers can be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (see attached example of a ‘voting ballot’).

Select ‘public officers’ from the participants (2 volunteers) who have experienced voting before. Provide them the handout listing the public officers’ tasks (see Annex). Let them vote first, before opening the boxes for further participation. Support the ‘public officers’ during the voting process.

Then participants get into the line to vote one by one. As the voting ends, ask the ‘public officers’ to do the counting of the votes and list down the results on the board. Announce the result of the referendum.

Reflection with the students / questions for debriefing

  • How do you feel about the result? Are you happy? Sad? Surprised? Why?
  • How was the voting process for you? What was your experience in the booth?
  • How does it feel to participate in a decision-making process?
  • Would you feel the same engagement if the topic of the referendum would not effect your life directly?

The second part of reflection questions is meant to explore the political aspect of diversity:

  • Who should decide on policies?
  • In a voting, everybody has one equal vote. Is this enough to consider voting as a democratic policy making process?
  • If we decide through voting only, what is the chance of a minority opinion to get realised?
  • What can be other mechanisms to support voting in becoming an inclusive and democratic decision-making process?

The session could end up with underlining the two key rights guarding the political aspect of diversity:

  • Right to freedom of opinion and expression (Art. 19) and
  • Right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (Art. 20)

See The Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Reference / original source of the method

This activity was facilitated by Gülesin Nemutlu Ünal in her Workshop „Politically Speaking“ during the aces Kick-Off Meeting 2013 in Bucharest, Romania.

Further tips and resources

Definition of terms policy, politics, polity:,_Polity,_Policy (online-glossary “confusing conversations about basic terms in citizenship education”)

Annex 1: voting ballots

Annex 2: instruction for the “public officers” (cut out single strips and hand out to officers)