Presented by the United States Capitol Historical Society

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ESSAY TOPIC: Why is voting rights an important issue in American History?

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 will be 50 years old in 2015. Throughout the history of the United States the right to vote has been extended to ever wider groups of citizens, including African Americans, women, Native Americans, and those between the ages of 18 and 21. Why is voting so important to this nation, and why has the extension of voting rights been such an important and controversial issue in American history? Some issues you might want to consider in your essay: 1) the relationship between voting and citizenship; 2) how, when, and why voting rights were extended to various groups, and the arguments for and against such decisions; 3) how voting rights at various times have been denied or restricted at state and local levels to some citizens; 4) and what threats remain today to a citizen’s right to vote?

In your essay you must use and cite sources such as the government documents, newspaper and magazine articles, and books.  You may use web sites, but exercise care and seek the guidance of a teacher or an adult.


ELIGIBILITY: The contest is open to students in two categories:  a junior division for middle school students in grades 6, 7, and 8; and a senior division for students in grades 9, 10, 11, and 12.



Junior Division: 600 (minimum) to 800 (maximum) words*

Senior Division: 800 (minimum) to 1,200 (maximum) words*


*(Word count does not include the citations to sources consulted.)

DUE DATE: All submissions must be postmarked or electronically submitted by Friday, June 5, 2015.


JUDGING CRITERIA: Entries will be judged on the depth of their content, the mastery of the topic, and the skill with which they are written. Students should develop a point of view on the issue and demonstrate critical thinking, using appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support their position. Essays should be free of grammatical errors and should be clear, concise, and well-organized.


PRIZES: The prizes for the top three entries in each division are —

First Place—$1,000 & trip to Washington, D.C.*

Second Place—$500

Third Place—$250

Honorable Mention—The top 50 entries in each division will receive a copy of the book Understanding Congress by former Congressman Lee Hamilton.

* Trip includes actual airfare costs to D.C. up to a predetermined amount and one night of lodging for the contest winner and two accompanying parents/guardians or teacher to present the winning essay at the annual meeting of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society.

Winners will be announced by Friday, August 7, 2015. The first place winners will be recognized at the annual meeting of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2015. All entrants will be notified of the results via e-mail or U.S. mail after the winners are selected.


In addition, a CLASSROOM GRANT of $1,000 will be presented to the school of the first place winner in each division.



1. Submitted essays should be in 12-point type, double-spaced, with 1-inch page margins.

2. Essays must have a title, and they must be within the word limit for each division: Junior Division (grades 6, 7, and 8) 600 to 800 words; Senior Division (grades 9, 10, 11, 12) 800-1,200 words. To ensure fairness, do not put your name, address, school or any other identifying information on the essay itself.

3. Sources must be used and must be cited and credited in a bibliography, consistent with an accepted citation style.  For citation and bibliography style, please consult either the MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Guide or Kate L. Turabian, Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.

4. All fields on the registration form must be completed.

5. Each submitted essay must also include an essay adviser form (see below), signed to verify the essay is the original work of the student.

6. The essay, registration form, and essay adviser form may be submitted by mail or by email.  Entries submitted by postal mail must be mailed to the following address, postmarked no later than June 5, 2015 to:

2014 Making Democracy Work Essay Contest
U.S. Capitol Historical Society
200 Maryland Avenue, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

Entries submitted electronically as MSWord or Adobe Acrobat PDF files should be emailed no later than June 5, 2015. The signed essay adviser form may be scanned and submitted electronically, but you must retain the original signed copy.


ESSAY ADVISER INFORMATION: Students must have an “essay adviser” to review the essay. Advisers must be a teacher or counselor at the applicant’s school. The adviser cannot be the student’s parent unless the parent homeschools the student. The adviser verifies the essay is the student’s original work and reviews it to ensure it meets all requirements. An adviser may work with more than one student, but each submitted essay must have its own adviser form.



JUNE 5, 2015: Date by which registration forms, essay adviser forms, and student essays must be submitted.

AUGUST 7, 2015: Date by which contest winners will be announced.

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