Three Activities for Understanding the Electoral College

By Jeremy Rinkel on April 2, 2012
  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12

The primaries for the Republican nomination for president are well under way, and the 2012 election is coming up fast. An integral part of our election process, the electoral college has remained in place since it was created by our founding fathers. The need for an electoral college has been a highly debated topic, especially in the last couple of elections. This post will focus on three activities designed to help students understand what the electoral college is and why it is important to the election process.

Large Group Discussion

During our large group discussion, we discuss what the electoral college is and why it was established. My students see the reason it was established, but question why the electoral college still exists. To start our research we consult a brief article from Scholastic entitled "How the Electoral College Works." Another great resource is from the New York Times election 2012 education page. This resource provides various lesson plans and activities surrounding the whole election process, and includes resources specifically for teaching about the electoral college.

Small Group Research

After the large group discussion, students are separated into two groups. One group focuses on arguments for keeping the electoral college. The other group focuses on arguments for abolishing the electoral college. Below are a couple of Web resources discussing the electoral college.

I came across a wonderful Web site called! that allows users to bookmark Web sites related to a topic and create something similar to an online magazine. I created an electoral college! for the Web sites I want my students to visit.


I’ve had several debates in my classes since becoming a teacher. Some have been horrible, but others have turned out to be great. Make sure students understand that debating is not arguing, and emphasize that thorough research must be completed.

After the research has been completed, students begin preparing for the debate. Each member of each group is assigned a particular issue or question to focus on. Each person organizes their argument using a number of resources such as this debate handout from Plymouth State University. This resource discusses the procedures for having a classroom debate. For more on the subject, see Brent Vasicek's post "Debates and Higher Order Thinking." After debating the pros and the cons of the electoral college, students will have a much clearer understanding of what happens every four years when we elect our president.


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The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC), while preserving the Electoral College.

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in more than 3/4ths of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the primaries.

When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the Electoral College votes– enough Electoral College votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the Electoral College votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their Electoral College votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

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