Introduction

One of the reasons the youngest voting demographic—those aged 18 to 29—has the lowest voter turnout is lack of knowledge surrounding the voting process. Another common reason is the belief that one person’s vote does not make much of a difference. Providing students with knowledge on how the Electoral College works can empower them to exercise their democratic freedoms to vote when they become of age. Not to mention, understanding the Electoral College and its function is one of the first steps toward being an informed citizen in one’s community and country. Students will be inspired to think critically and debate the pros and cons of this system, as well as think of creative solutions to combat the shortcomings of the Electoral College. Now would be a perfect time to engage with students on this topic as the nation prepares for the 2020 Election Day.

Resources

There are an abundance of resources available for teaching students about the Electoral College and help them think critically about it. Below are some lesson plans that offer ideas on how to facilitate discussions about whether or not the Electoral College should be reformed. Students can explore alternatives to the process or justify their stance on why or why not they think the Electoral College works.

Lesson Plans

  1. Academy 4SC: Find videos related to the Electoral College at Academy 4SC, like Electoral College: The Race for 270, Representative vs. Direct Democracy: Power of the People, and Electoral College Debate: To Keep or Abolish?, among others. Teachers have access to resources like worksheets, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more included in each topic’s lesson plan. Explore Academy 4SC’s full library of applicable content under the tag The Electoral College.
  2. Leaders 4SC Forces: Leaders 4SC provides a variety of Task Forces that provoke students to think critically about key issues as they roleplay as decision-makers and brainstorm well-detailed solutions. Each Task Force comes with step-by-step instructions, Google slide templates to be used with virtual breakout rooms, and topic-specific questions to get students started. The activities can be completed either individually or as part of a group. A fun Task Forces is Design a New Election System.
  3. Debating the Electoral College: KQED Learning provides a comprehensive lesson plan encouraging students to analyze the role of the Electoral College throughout history and during recent elections. They offer a variety of different activities to challenge students’ critical thinking and help them practice supporting their opinion with factual evidence. It breaks down vocabulary with English Language Learners in mind, providing discussion questions to facilitate debates in a think/pair/share, circle chat, or whole-class discussion format.
  4. The Electoral College: The NC Civic Education Consortium’s lesson plan focuses on the purpose, function, and history of the Electoral College before asking students to evaluate the fairness of the system and to participate in a debate over its pros and cons. It provides discussion questions, student worksheets, activities, and a teacher’s guide to supplement the lesson. 
  5. The Electoral College by TEDEd: This is a self-guided student lesson in a WebQuest-like format that could be completed in pairs or groups. It is perfect for either remote learning and breakout rooms on Zoom or whole-class independent work. The lesson focuses on the history of the Electoral College, giving examples of past outcomes and how it works today. 
  6. Decode the Electoral College and Predict the Next President: This PBS Newshour lesson demonstrates how the Electoral College works and how it has impacted past elections. Students have the opportunity to use a simulation activity and predict who the next president will be. 
  7. Electoral College:  KERA provides a lesson plan with research questions to help teach students about how the Electoral College functions. It is short and concise, provides primary resources for teachers, and ends with a prompt to check students’ understanding of the Electoral College. This could be perfect for a shorter lesson! 

Articles

  1. In Defense of the Electoral College: This Washington Post article justifies the Electoral College by explaining its purposes and outcomes throughout U.S. election history.
  2. The Electoral College: A “System” for the People?: This Honors Thesis reflects research gathered on public opinion and overall knowledge of the Electoral College. It also provides suggestions on how to educate the general public about this controversial process.
  3. How the Electoral College Was Nearly Abolished in 1970: The History Channel discusses a moment in history when the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to abolish the Electoral College.

Informational Sites

  1. What is the US Electoral College?: BBC News defines the Electoral College and presents questions surrounding its purpose and controversies throughout US elections.
  2. 2020 Presidential Election Simulator: The website, 270 to Win, has created a simulation tool which students can use to see the candidate predicted to receive 270 electoral votes first, which is the number required to win the 2020 Presidential Election. 
  3. How the Electoral College Works: HowStuffWorks covers the history of the Electoral College starting from its inception. It also covers the surrounding debate, such as faithless electors, election results throughout U.S. history and the role the Electoral College has played. 

Conclusion

The Electoral College has a long and controversial history. Some people claim it is a crucial element of the U.S. democratic process while others argue that it is a flawed system. With the 2020 Election approaching, now is a perfect time to teach about the Electoral College, its history, and whether or not it should be reformed. 

Additional Resources

  1. The Electoral College and the American Idea of Democracy: Professor Martin Diamond of Georgetown University refutes “the six charges” against the Electoral College and explains why he believes the procedure is not archaic, complex, ambiguous, indirect, or dangerous.
  2. The “Bad” Election Map? It’s Not So Bad: This Vox article (and video) discusses the method of understanding cartograms depicting the Electoral College, as well as alternative graphics that place electoral importance over geographic significance. 
  3. Problems with the Electoral College: FairVote elaborates on a handful of problems surrounding the Electoral College that bring the procedure’s fairness under question.
  4. Can the Electoral College be Abolished? The American Bar Association (ABA) discusses the feasibility and legality of abolishing the Electoral College.