Syllabus for FTS-100: How Do We Vote? (Fall 2012)


This seminar introduces students to critical thinking and a discussion of values, and develops oral and written communication skills, through an investigation of election systems. People vote; votes are counted; a winner is declared. This simple idea has many values-laden choices lurking in the details -- choices that need to be revisited in light of new technical and social context. How should the identity and eligibility of voters be verified? Can paperless voting be trusted? Which elections are close enough to recount? Should the recount be done by humans or machines? Is ranked-choice (instant-runnoff) voting a good idea? Should voting be done in precinct polling places on election day or at other times in other places?

Office hours

I will be available in my office (OHS 306) 10:30-11:20 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 1:30-3:20 on Wednesdays, as well as by appointment. Or try your luck: just stop by and see whether my door is open. You may send me electronic mail at I won't hold office hours on 9/5, 10/2, 10/3, 10/23, 11/6, 11/14, 11/21, or 11/22. I'll try to put any updates to my office hours on my web page, so check there if in doubt.

World Wide Web

All course materials will be available through my World Wide Web page. The URL for this course is After this syllabus I will give hardcopy handouts only to those students who want them.


We will read the following three books. Additionally, you are expected to use the College's standard writing handbook (Lunsford's Everyday Writer) for reference.

Email communication

I will send email to your Gustavus address. It is your responsibility to either check that email at least daily or arrange that it is forwarded to an address that you do check. You are always welcome to contact me at


You will have the opportunity to earn up to 520 grade points throughout the semester: 100 from oral communication, 180 from formal writing, 100 from fact checking, 100 from other informal writing, and 40 from a final exam. Each of these categories is explained in more detail in a subsequent section.

Your course grade will be recorded as follows:


Oral communication

You will have the opportunity to earn 40 points through a mock legislative hearing that I schedule and up to 60 additional points by summarizing relevant news stories at your own initiative.

I will provide more information on our simulation of a legislative committee hearing. You will be preparing and presenting oral testimony, which if properly done will earn you 20 points. You will also have the opportunity to play the role of committee member by asking questions of the other testifiers. This will earn you 5 points apiece for up to 4 questions.

At any point of your own choosing, you can orally summarize for the class a relevant newspaper article you have read. You will earn 20 points apiece for up to 3 news stories. Only one of these may be with regard to Minnesota elections; the other two will have to come from elsewhere. In each case, you should provide me with a copy of the article either by email or in hardcopy form. If the article is published on the web, you can email me a link rather than an actual copy of the text. Your copy should include enough information to make the source apparent. If you want to use a source other than a newspaper, please consult with me first regarding appropriateness.

Formal writing

You will have the opportunity to earn 60 points for each of three writing assignments that are "formal" in the sense that you will need to rewrite each so as to produce a polished final product that makes a good impression. In each of these three assignments, you will earn up to 20 points for the first draft that you submit and up to 40 more points for the rewritten version.

I will provide additional information about each of the three writing assignments. The due dates for initial and rewritten versions are shown on the course schedule.

Fact checking

You can take initiative, at any time of your own choosing, for earning up to 20 points apiece for checking each of 3 factual claims made in the books we read. In addition to these 60 points, you can earn up to 40 bonus points as described below.

One of your fact checks should be with regard to a claim for which the book's author has cited a specific source in an end-note. Another fact check should be with regard to a claim that the author made without providing a specific citation; you'll need to do some detective work. You should look for an authoritative source such as a government document or a news article (not an opinion column) published in a newspaper. Provided that you have done one fact check of each kind, you can do a third of either kind.

To earn the basic 20 points for a fact check, you should email me a citation of the source you consulted and an informal summary of the information you found there. Tell me whether our book's author seems to have fairly and accurately presented the information or whether it was mis-represented or taken out of context.

For one fact check with a specifically cited source, you can earn 20 bonus points by cross-checking the information with an additional authoritative source. This is particularly valuable if the cited source is a work of advocacy or is out of date; you should try to find more objective or up-to-date information.

For any one of your fact checks, you can also earn 20 bonus points by submitting to me a signed confirmation from a librarian that you received assistance from that librarian. I encourage you to make use of a librarian's help for all three fact checks and on other occasions as well. However, I am offering you the incentive of bonus points just once. The librarian who has been specifically designated to consult with our course is Barbara Fister; you can can reach her to schedule an appointment at Alternatively, you are welcome to consult any other librarian, such as whoever is staffing the reference desk.

Although you will primarily communicate each fact-checking result by writing me an informal email, I may also ask you to orally share any particularly interesting discovery with the class.

Informal writing

Informal writing is not revised to the same degree of polish as formal writing. The goal is to get some ideas down in a clear, useful form without a lot of effort. Rather than thinking of the result as "a document," you think of it as just something you wrote down.

In addition to your fact-checking results, I will assign you four specific informal writing assignments. You can earn 20 points each for 3 paragraph-length assignments. You can also earn 40 points by writing a short, informal report on your experience with some aspect of election administration, either as a participant or an observer.

The first paragraph assignment will be completed in class as part of our discussion of study skills. The second and third paragraph assignments are to answer two legal questions: "What are the ways in which one can register to vote in Minnesota?" and "Under what circumstances is a recount conducted in Minnesota?" To answer the first question, you should look at Section 201.054 of the Minnesota Statutes as well as other sections it references. To answer the second question, you should look at Sections 204C.35 and 204C.36 of the Minnesota Statutes. In both cases, your goal is to provide a concise one-paragraph summary of the law focusing on just the information needed to answer the specific question.

The due dates for these two legal summary paragraphs are shown in the course schedule. For each one, email your paragraph to me along with an indication of whether I have permission to project it in class (without your name). I'd like us to discuss at least a couple of these paragraphs.

As I will explain, there are four different ways you can gain experience with election administration. If you have other ideas, I am also open to suggestions. Whichever way you choose, you can earn 40 points by taking part in the experience and emailing me a short, informal report, which should be 1 to 3 paragraphs in length. The four choices I am offering follow:

Final Exam

You can earn up to 40 points on the final exam. If you have a conflict with the time scheduled by the registrar, please contact me as soon as possible to make an alternative arrangement.

My default assumption is that students will take the final together. Therefore, I would ask you to please be respectful and quiet, even after completing your exam, so that your fellow students have a good test-taking environment. However, if you prefer to take the exam in a separate room, please contact me in advance and I will try to arrange it.

The final will be closed-book and mostly closed-notes. You may, however, use a single 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper with hand-written notes for reference. (Both sides of the sheet are OK.)


Students are encouraged to discuss the course, including issues raised by the assignments. However, the material you submit in response to assignments should be individual original work unless otherwise specified. If an assignment makes you realize you don't understand the material, ask a fellow student a question designed to improve your understanding, not one designed to get the assignment done. To do otherwise is to cheat yourself out of understanding as well as to be intolerably dishonorable.

Any substantive contribution to your submission by another person or taken from a publication or online source should be properly acknowledged in writing. Failure to do so is plagiarism and will necessitate disciplinary action.

You are expected to be familiar with the college academic honesty honor code policy and to comply with that policy. If you have any questions about it, please ask.

Grade changes

Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.


Gustavus Adolphus College is committed to ensuring the full participation of all students in its programs. If you have a documented disability (or you think you may have a disability of any nature) and, as a result, need reasonable academic accommodation to participate in class, take tests or benefit from the College's services, then you should speak with the Disability Services Coordinator, for a confidential discussion of your needs and appropriate plans. Course requirements cannot be waived, but reasonable accommodations may be provided based on disability documentation and course outcomes. Accommodations cannot be made retroactively; therefore, to maximize your academic success at Gustavus, please contact Disability Services as early as possible. Disability Services ( is located in the Advising and Counseling Center.

Support for English Language Learners (ELL) and multilingual students is available via the College's ELL Support staff person, Andrew Grace ( or x7395). He can meet individually with students to consult about academic tasks and to help students seek other means of support. In addition, ELL and multilingual students can seek help from peer tutors in the Writing Center. Please let me know if there is any accommodation in the course that would enable you to more fully show your abilities; for example, I would consider allowing extra time on tests, as well as allowing a dictionary in an otherwise closed-book test.


In the reading column, the letter indicates the book's author and the number indicates the chapter. For example, H1 is Chapter 1 of Hasen's book.

9/4H Introduction
9/6H1Large-group discussion skillschoice of participation/observation

9/11H2Lisa Rinehart from Counseling Center visits

9/18H4Study skills paragraph in class

9/27H7Jane Lalim from Advising Center visits

10/2No class (attend Nobel Conference)
10/4F Introduction and 1Nobel Conference followupletter to editor

10/11F5Visit to Center for International and Cultural Educationregistration paragraph

10/16F6-7Follow up on registration paragraph
10/18F8-10Demonstration of WebAdvisorrewritten letter

10/23No class (reading days)
10/25Advising conversationsinterstate or international comparison

10/30F11-14Check in on J-term registration
11/1F conclusionrecount paragraph

11/6No class (go vote or serve as an election judge)
11/8W Preface, Prologue, and 1Election Day followup; course registration reminders

11/13W2-4Check in on Spring registrationrewritten comparison

11/20W7-8written testimony
11/22No class (Thanksgiving)

11/29W12-15 and Epiloguerewritten testimony

12/4Jay Weiner visits
12/6LWVMN bookletChris Gilbert on Instant Runoff Voting

12/11Visit to Center for Servant Leadership
12/13Mock legislative hearing; wrap-up

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>