Lesson PlansBack to lesson plans archive September 1, 2012
The Electoral College
By Lara Maupin
Civics, Government, Politics, Current Events
One or two 45-minute class periods
- Students will understand how the Electoral College system works.
- Students will analyze and debate the pros and cons of the Electoral College system.
Introduction / Background
Explain to your students that while in November Americans will cast their ballots for president, there is actually a system called the Electoral College that determines who will win the election. Often ignored, Americans had a lesson on the workings of the Electoral College after the 2000 election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush became president. Ask your students what they remember about the 2000 election. Explain that George Bush won because he had 5 more electoral votes than Al Gore. (You may also want to discuss the contested results in Florida and the Supreme Court case that ultimately determined the outcome of the election.)
Explain that each state and the District of Columbia are given a share of the electoral vote based on population. Electors are chosen by the states to actually cast the official votes for president. Because of how the system is set up, it is possible for one candidate to win the popular vote and another to win the electoral vote. After the 2000 election, a majority of Americans favored abolishing the system. However, no proposals to do so were seriously considered. Why? Tell your students they will now try to answer that very question.
Handout: The Electoral College
Give your students the handout and ask them to use the following online resources (or printouts from these Web sites or of these stories that you provide) in order to complete it. Students may work individually or in small groups.
Group Activity: Debate
After students have completed their handouts, have them debate the pros and cons of the Electoral College. First, have students meet in small groups to discuss and debate.
What do they think about the system? Do they think it is fair? What do they think of the 2008 election results? Would they like to see the system changed? Why or why not?
Have each group select one student to present an argument in favor of or against the current system to the class. The group as a whole should help that student to prepare his or her argument. Selected students then present to the class as a whole. End with a class discussion. What can your students conclude? Why does the system continue?
- Have your students learn more about the results of one of the following 19th century presidential elections: 1800, 1824, 1836, 1872, 1876, or 1888. Students share their findings. Discuss. What surprised them? What did they learn about the American system of electing the president from these elections? What can they conclude from these elections? What relevance do they have today?
- Refer students to Online NewsHour’s Electoral College Map. Students can examine past election results, create election strategies, and predict the next election results.
Lara Maupin has a Master’s Degree in Secondary Social Studies Education from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology and Philosophy from Mount Holyoke College.
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