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November 7, 2016

Will the U.S. eventually rely on popular vote to elect presidents?

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Essential question

How democratic is the Electoral College?


Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have crisscrossed the country dozens of times over the course of the 2016 campaign, yet 90 percent of their visits have concentrated on just a handful of states.

States like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida historically receive a seemingly-disproportionate level of focus due to their “battleground” status. This means that because our system relies on the Electoral College instead of the popular vote to elect a president, states with a large number of electoral votes and a voting base that is neither solidly Republican or Democrat become a major target for candidates.

Some feel that this system is unfair, because voters in states considered to be safe for one candidate or the other are largely ignored and also because it sometimes means a candidate can win the election despite not winning the most individual votes, as was the case for George W. Bush in 2000.

Opponents of the current system have proposed “The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact,” a system that would circumvent the Electoral College by allocating participating state’s electoral votes to whomever wins the national popular vote.

“We want every state to count, we want every individual vote to count, and we want the issues of our state and our communities to count as much as the issues in other states like Florida,” said Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democratic state assemblyman in New York who helped get the legislation adopted in 2014.

Ten states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the legislation, bringing it a total of 165 electoral votes. By design, the compact won’t have an effect until enough states join to bring that total to 270 — the majority needed to elect a president.

Key terms

Electoral College — a body of people representing the states of the U.S. who formally cast votes for the election of the president and vice president

elector — a member of the Electoral College in the U.S.

popular vote — the vote for a U.S. presidential candidate made by qualified voters, instead of the electoral college

electoral vote — the vote cast in the electoral college of the U.S. by the representatives of each state in a presidential election

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. Do Americans directly elect the president of the United States?
  2. What is the Electoral College and what historical document established it?
  3. Is it possible for a presidential candidate to win the popular vote but not win the electoral vote?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Would you support your state in joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think it’s fair that a handful of states determine the presidential election? Explain your answer.
  3. As of now, if the Electoral College is more likely to help a Democratic nominee, why do more Democrats back the National Popular Vote Compact? What are some scenarios that could shift Republican thinking on this issue?
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