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Is the Electoral College Out of Date?

In this lesson, students investigate the history, purpos, and tradition of the Electoral College, as well as determine whether the current electoral system should be maintained, revised or scrapped altogether.

Students will act as a "constitutional convention" convened to propose and ratify amendments, particularly the system of presidential election. They will look at current research into the Electoral College and defend a position as to the future of the system. Then they will work toward a common goal of a feasible system of electing the president.

Estimated Time of Completion: 150-200 minutes, spread over several days. The time includes research and in-class discussion.

I. Objectives
II. Necessary Materials
III. Teaching Procedure
IV. Assessment Recommendations
V. Online Resources
VI. Relevant National Standards

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I. Objectives

Students will learn and appreciate the issues that led the framers of the Constitution to establish the Electoral College.

Students will learn procedures regarding the selection of electors and the function of the office.

Students will learn the legal and constitutional procedures for election of the president and vice-president. Students will learn cooperative learning strategies as well as develop logical thinking skills.

II. Necessary Materials

paper and pencil

computers with Internet access (optional)

III. Teaching Procedure

1. The teacher introduces the concept of the Electoral College with an "icebreaker" question. For example, the teacher might ask the class to estimate how many times their parents, guardians, or teachers have been able to vote for president. (Unless a student guesses "zero", all the answers are wrong.)

2. he teacher then should introduce the basis for the formation of the Electoral College system. One example of a good resource of electoral system history is the Jackson County (Missouri) Election Board Web site. The Electoral College information page on this site gives insight on the development of the Electoral College and continued existence since the late 1700s. Teachers and students will also find other resources listed in Online Resources.

The teacher may explain that the founding fathers wanted to create a "safety system" to keep the general public from electing someone who would be unsuitable as president. The teacher may also add that slow communication and poor education during the late 18th Century made it a necessity in the eyes of the framers to restrict the process of electing the president to an educated elite.

3. Next, the teacher should announce to the class that they have been selected to participate in a constitutional convention, called at the bequest of the states, to propose and ratify constitutional amendments. (The possibility of a convention to propose (not ratify) amendments is included in the Constitution, though it has never been used.)

Explain to the class that there has been a public outcry to change the process of presidential election. Since the students in the class are delegates, they must research and develop amendments to alter the process or contend that the current process is functioning well enough to not warrant any changes. (In other words, if the process doesn't need changes, then that would mean the status quo should be upheld.)

4. Explain to the students that they will need to assume roles that either support the current system or propose a change. This is probably best done by having the students form groups to accept the status quo or to promote a change.

In order to conduct the convention in an organized manner, the teacher will ask students to volunteer either to represent the status quo or to propose an amendment that will alter the current system. Regardless of which view the student groups represent, they will need to develop logical arguments and to collect resources that either defend their position or discount the opposition's stance.

5. Allow students ample time to formally research their view (either via the Internet or through conventional sources).

Note that many of the sources listed above include various replacements for the electoral college, such as a set number of electors per state or a popular vote alternative with the presidential/vicepresidential pair receiving the most votes (over 40% of the total vote) being declared the winner. It is suggested that at least three alternate plans be developed. A good site to find alternatives to the Electoral College can be found at the John F. Kennedy School of Government Web site.

6. Once students have adequately researched their various positions and roles the class may convene as the "constitutional convention". It may be a good idea to acquaint students to basic ideas regarding parliamentary procedure. A good reference (with links for downloadable information) for parliamentary procedure can be found at http://www.texasnaacp.org/parlproc.htm.

In order to maintain order and to keep the flow of the "convention" smooth, the teacher may opt to elect a student to be the convention "president." The role of the president would be to maintain order and to function as an intermediary between various groups. The teacher may wish to assist in this, especially if debate between different groups becomes heated.

7. After a reasonable amount of time, the president should pronounce the convention "closed" and announce that the time has come to accept or to reject proposed amendments (proposals to maintain the status quo or to replace the current system). The class as a whole convention may vote to accept or to reject proposals (or may also vote to compromise between various proposals). Regardless of the vote, it is recommended that the student's grade (see Assessment Recommendations, below) not be dependent on whether his or her group or proposal wins out.

IV. Assessment Recommendations

It is recommended that the teacher award a group grade based on various criteria. While the teacher can develop his or her own rubric, a sample rubric is included as a guide. It is suggested that the teacher look to other criteria (speaking ability, research skills, cooperative skills) in developing a grade rather than whether a proposed amendment is rejected or accepted.

Sample rubric for grading convention participation:

1. Research: how well did the collected sources back the group's position or demonstrate the other positions as inadequate? Did the group effectively cite their research?

2. Speaking ability: how well did each member of the group participate in the convention? Did they speak well?

3. Cooperation: did the members of the group act in a manner of respect and courtesy to members of other groups? Did the members of the group act in a manner of respect to other group members?

V. Online Resources
Federal Election Commission: Electoral College

Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government: Electoral College

Atlas of US Presidential Election

The Electoral College Web Zine

Electoral College Calculator

VI. Relevant National Standards
These are established by McREL at

Social Studies (civics and government)

How does the government established by the Constitution embody the purposes, values and principles of American democracy?

Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics

Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government.

Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals

Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy

Understands how democratic values came to be, and how they have been exemplified by people, events, and symbols

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