The Electoral College, Part I: Functionality and Purpose
What Students Should Know Ahead of Time <ul><ul><li>The three branches of the U.S. government and their functions; but you should particularly review 1. Executive branch – Roles of President, Vice President 2. Legislative branch – Congress (House of Reps., Senate) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The following election-related vocabulary: 1. Vote 2. Ballot 3. Majority 4. Plurality 5. Party </li></ul></ul>
Introductory Activity: The Trouble with Voting This activity is designed to introduce students to three basic types of voting systems and initiate a discussion about their advantages and disadvantages, using a topic of high interest: candy. 1. List two popular, diverse candies, and explain that the class will vote for their favorite candy and receive the winning choice. Try using a fruit-flavored candy and a chocolate candy to represent the spectrum of possible choices. 2. Take a popular vote : Ask students to vote individually, by raising their hands. Tally the votes and note the winning choice as the “candy elect by popular vote.” Guidelines
3. Now try a vote by representation : Split the class into uneven groups of 2 to 6 students each. From the results of the popular vote, form groups so that some have mostly supporters of one type of candy, while others have a nearly even mix of supporters of each candy. Choose one “representative” randomly from each group, and ask for that student's vote. Tally only these votes to find the winner, or "candy elect by representative vote." 4. Vote with an Electoral College system : Keep the students in groups and have each choose “Electors” to represent their votes. Groups of 4 or less students should have 2 Electors, and those with more should have 1 additional Elector (i.e., a group of 5 students has 3 Electors). Have each individual group vote for a candy and announce their choice to the class. The Trouble with Voting: Guidelines
The Trouble with Voting: Guidelines 4. Now, direct the Electors to cast their votes. Make it clear that electors should follow the choice of their group, but are ultimately able to make their own decision, under possible threat of retribution by their other group members. Tally the result and announce the winner as "candy elect by Electoral vote." 5. Point out that the Electoral College is the system used in the U.S. to choose the next President, and, if all goes well, offer the students the candy elect by the Electoral vote.
The Trouble with Voting <ul><ul><li>What were some of the problems you experienced with the popular vote? What were the advantages? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What were problems with the representative vote? What were advantages? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What were problems with the Electoral vote? What were the advantages? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Which system of voting do you think is fairest? Why? </li></ul></ul>Discussion Questions After the activity, discuss students’ thoughts on the popular, representative, and Electoral College voting systems. This reflection will prepare them to understand the difficulties faced by a democratic government in choosing a fair voting system.
Introductory Video: "Electing a U.S. President in Plain English" This video contains a brief, easy-to-understand introduction to how the Electoral College works, so it is a good lead-in to this module.
So, Where Did it Come From?: A Brief History of the Electoral College <ul><ul><li>The founding fathers formed a "Committee of Eleven" that was given the task of determining how the President of the United States should be elected. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Committee had four options: 1. A popular vote 2. A Congressional vote 3. Election through the legislature 4. The Electoral College </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They chose the Electoral College to avoid problems with the popular vote (citizens would choose only candidates they knew) or a Congressional vote (the public would have no direct voice in electing the President). </li></ul></ul>Below are points that outline the historical foundation of the Electoral College. This is meant to inform students without overloading them. See “Supplementary Information” for sources of further information.
How does it work? <ul><ul><li>Each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. gets a number of Electors that will pledge to vote for a candidate according to their state’s preferences. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Currently, there are a total of 538 Electors. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In most states and D.C., a popular vote is held, and the party that wins the majority of that vote is the one the state’s Electorate pledges to vote for. The exceptions to this rule are Maine and Nebraska. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In the December after Election Day, the Electoral College votes (specifically, the Monday after the 2 nd Wednesday in December). The first candidate to receive the plurality of the Electoral votes, (today, 270+1), wins the Presidency. </li></ul></ul>An overview of how the Electoral College works is presented here. Certain aspects of the Electoral College’s functions are investigated more closely in future lessons.
What Happens If...?: Special Cases <ul><ul><li>The Electoral vote doesn't match the popular vote? Too bad for the popular vote winner--the Electoral vote wins out. This has happened 4 times in U.S. history: 1. 1824 - John Quincy Adams is elected, although Andrew Jackson wins the popular vote. 2. 1876 - Rutherford B. Hayes beats Samuel Tilden 3. 1888 - Benjamin Harrison beats out Grover Cleveland 4. 2000 - Dem. Al Gore wins the popular vote, but Rep. G.W. Bush wins the Electoral vote due to a recount in Florida </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Below are some out-of-the-ordinary situations that can and have occurred in the history of the Electoral College. Use these to show students how this system works around potential problems, and that it still is not perfect. </li></ul></ul>
What Happens If...?: Special Cases <ul><ul><li>No one wins the plurality? That is, what happens if the person with the highest number of Electoral votes does not have more than half? The vote for President goes to the House of Representatives . Each state gets one vote for the three (at most) candidates with highest number of votes, and the candidate must win by a two-thirds majority. In the case of a tie for the Vice President , the Senate holds a vote by ballot among the two candidates with the highest number of votes. The V.P. elect must get a 2/3 majority. If no President is chosen by March 4th following an election year, the Vice President elect acts as the President. </li></ul></ul>
What Happens If...?: Special Cases <ul><ul><li>There is a tie? Note: The Electoral College casts ballots for Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates separately . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A tied vote has only gone to the House twice in U.S. history: 1. 1800 – Thomas Jefferson (Democratic Republican Pres. candidate) and Aaron Burr (D.R. V.P. candidate) received the same number of Electoral votes. The House chose just before Inauguration Day. 2. 1824 – House chose John Quincy Adams (84 Electoral votes, 131 required to win), over Andrew Jackson (99 E.V.), and William Harris Crawford (41 E.V.) </li></ul></ul>
What Happens If...?: Special Cases <ul><ul><li>A candidate dies before the Electoral College votes? The Electoral College convenes as normal, and Electors that have pledged to that candidate may cast their votes for any of the candidates, usually for another candidate within their party. This has happened once in U.S. history: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1. 1872 – Democratic candidate Horace Greeley died after the popular election but before the Electoral College convened. He had only won a few states’ votes, and most of the Electors voted for other Democrats, but 3 cast votes for Greeley himself. These votes were not counted in the final tally. </li></ul></ul>
Supplementary Material The Constitution: The website below has a copy of the full Constitution, with images of the primary source document and annotations: http ://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/constitution/constitution.htm LeFever, Lee. "Electing a U.S. President in Plain English." The Commoncraft Show . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok_VQ8I7g6I