The Electoral College and Popular Vote for the President
With the outcome of last week’s election, many Americans are questioning the history and validity of the electoral college. This lesson will help you think through the critical issues surrounding the structure and foundational philosophy of the Electoral college with your students.
After a seemingly endless primary and election cycle, the United States has a new President Elect. In an extremely close election, Donald Trump was declared the winner of the Electoral college, obtaining the necessary 270 votes to win. However, it appears for the second time this century, the winner of the Electoral College did not win the popular vote, with Trump trailing Clinton by 0.7% according to CNN. This has thrust a discussion about the College back to center stage once again. This is a great time to revisit this foundational and often confusing institution with your students!
In this eLesson, students will examine the Electoral College system. They will explore the underlying principles of republicanism and democracy behind the inclusion of this election process in the U.S. Constitution. Students will explore the underlying principles of republicanism and democracy that behind its design and why they chose it over a nationwide popular vote. They will also study the impact this system has on presidential campaigning and elections. They will then put their understanding to use by engaging in a civil debate on the Electoral College.
Activity: Electoral College, Review and Discussion
(Approximately 20 minutes)
- Assign Bill of Rights Institute: Electoral College and Bill of Rights Institute: What Kind of School is the Electoral College? for reading. These resources are designed to provide background information to help your students better understand the Electoral College system.
- As they read, have your students review the following questions:
- What are some potential reasons for which the Framers may have created the Electoral College?
- Are there any potential factors which the Framers may have overlooked when creating the Electoral College?
- To what extent does the Electoral College still function as the Framers intended or as they anticipated?
- What benefits are there to the Electoral College system? What is ineffective about the system?
- It has been said that James Madison feared the passions of the people, but admired their reason. How is the Electoral College reflective of this idea?
- The majority of the population in the United States lives in or near cities. What would this mean for a nationwide popular vote? To what extent would this limit the voice of other parts of the country?
- The Framers emphasized the importance of ensuring that diversity of interests, views and opinions from across the country was represented in the national government. This is part of the reason why our bicameral legislature was designed as it is. To what extent does the Electoral College further help to ensure this goal?
- Similar and additional questions and background information surrounding the debates for and against the Electoral College can be found in Bill of Rights Institute: What’s the Deal with the Electoral College?
Activity: Electoral College Debate
(Approximately 20 minutes)
- Prior to beginning this activity, show the following two videos to your students. These can be found at the links below or on the Bill of Rights Institute: What’s the Deal with the Electoral College?
- Have an open discussion with your students using the questions above as your guide. The discussion should center around the conflict behind the democratic principles of one man one vote and the Framers’ desire to draw passion from reason through a republican system.
- Continue the debate with students from across the country! Direct your students to our Constitution Connection and have them share their opinions with students in classrooms from all across the country.