Civic Literacy Curriculum
Question 49: Why is the Electoral College important?
Q49: Why is the Electoral College important?
A. It ensures that whoever get the most votes in the whole country is president
B. It provides a compromise between the popular election of the president and congressional selection
C. It appoints university administrators
D. It lets the Senate pick the president
Just as baseball games are not decided by who gets the most hits and football games are not won by the team with the most yards, the president is not selected by a simple majority vote. Instead, the president is chosen by the Electoral College, in which each state gets as many votes as its combined number of senators and representatives.
Like the two houses of Congress itself, the Electoral College’s allocation of votes takes into account both the states and people, federalism and population, ensuring any winning candidate is broadly acceptable across different regions of the country. This balances the process of picking the president between direct popular election and congressional selection.
The Constitution leaves it to the states to decide how to allocate electors. Most initially chose them by popular votes —electors would pledge their support of a particular candidate, creating a de facto popular election within the state. Other state legislatures chose the electors directly, but this is no longer done anywhere.
Today, most states — 48 of 50 — are “winner-take-all”, meaning whoever wins the most votes within a state wins all its electoral votes, but Maine and Nebraska allocate some of their votes based on who wins the different congressional districts, not just the state as a whole.
The Electoral College has come under fire several times since its inception. Some argue that the college is out of date and should be abolished, while others argue that the Constitution’s system of allocating electors is still basically sound. In this exercise, students will read the logic of the Electoral College and decide whether to apply a similar concept to a hypothetical school election.
- Provide each student with The Electoral College.
- Provide each student with The Electoral College: Student Election Edition
- Provide each student with a template.
- A rubric is available if this is a graded activity.
Explain to the students that they are going to think about whether to use the logic of the Electoral College for student elections.
- Before handing out the reading, brainstorm with the students to determine their knowledge on the Electoral College and their opinions about it. This will prime them for the reading.
- Ask, What do you already know about the Electoral College?
- Ask, What do you think about the Electoral College and why?
- As they do the reading on the history of the Electoral College, have them take notes on what the Electoral College tries to achieve, and whether it succeeds in those objectives. Once students have completed that, they should move onto the Electoral College: Student Election Edition worksheet.
- After students have done both readings and filled out the latter work, have a discussion using the questions provided in the Electoral College Student Edition.
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events and historical events.
The Electoral College sought to balance many objectives: representing the people and the states in a federal system, giving the president an independent power base of Congress insofar as his job is not dependent on pleasing Congress, and ensuring that the president, a primarily administrative rather than policy-making position, would have a competent officeholder.
The Electoral College isn’t a place: it’s a process. Why is it important? What is it intended to achieve?
One reason that selection of the president by Congress was considered is that some states did it that way when it came to choosing their own state executive, with their legislature choosing the governor. Would that be a better model than the Electoral College? Why or why not? Use past and current events in your answer.