The Electoral College: Is there a better way?

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

The results of the 2016 presidential election put a new spotlight on the Electoral College in many civics and history classrooms. Five out of forty-five of our nation’s presidents lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College. As illustrated in these brief point/counterpoint videos from the Bill of Rights Institute, arguments for and against Electoral College reform are compelling.

In this week’s #Teach2020 webinar, Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, examined Electoral College history, functionality, and various proposals for reform. Dr. Healy also provided an overview of how various scenarios might play out in the 2020 election given the possible challenges of counting mail-in ballots in a timely fashion. If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording to view at your convenience and visit the Election 2020 Toolkit for resources to enhance your instruction on the Electoral College.

Classroom inquiry into the compelling question, “The Electoral College: Is there a better way,” provides opportunities for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms to engage students in civic learning best practices delineated in the 6-8 and 9-12 civic course requirements which include:
  • Instruction on Democratic Institutions
  • Current and Societal Issue Discussions
  • Simulations of Democratic Processes
  • Service Learning
We asked two of our regional Civics Instructional Coaches to recommend resources aligned with the civics course requirement that use the Electoral College and the 2020 election as a teachable moment to engage students in the workings of our republic. Here are their suggestions.

Matt Wood from West Chicago loves to engage his middle school students with the iCivics game-based simulation Win the White House (also available with supplemental materials for ELL students). “Win The White House is probably the best game iCivics offers. This simulation of campaign strategy not only allows students to explore the importance of the 3 M’s (money, media, momentum), but also always directs them to see the Electoral Map as it is, a game board to be won. This game engages their minds by asking them to consider:
  • What is my platform and how do I deliver it?
  • What role does fundraising have in an election?
  • Which states matter most?
Matt also recommends the award-winning documentary, Electoral Dysfunction, that “explores Constitutional provisions on voting and voting rights.” Current and societal issues explored in the video include:
  • The origins and present-day impact of the Electoral College
  • Voter ID laws
  • Ballot design
  • Inconsistencies among America’s 13,000 voting jurisdictions
  • Reforms that would make elections fairer and more uniform
Logan Ridenour from Dupo recommends the Electoral Decoder from PBS Learning Media to examine how the democratic institution of the Electoral College has worked over time. “This is an interactive map of the electoral college that details every election. Students are able to see all candidates and how many electoral votes each received. It also details the growth of the Electoral College as new states were added.”

Logan also likes Debating the Electoral College from KQED to facilitate a current and societal issue discussion. “This lesson plan allows students to gain knowledge from multiple sources and looks at the popular vote as well. Students are able to discuss which method of election is the proper method to be used. It addresses the question: Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?” The extension activities in this lesson provide an opportunity for students to engage in service learning by taking their learning out of the classroom by:
  • Writing editorials on their position on Electoral College reform
  • Advocating their position to their Congressperson
  • Publishing infographics, political cartoons, or other media to inform others
What are you doing to engage students in examining the Electoral College this election season? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare our youngest community members for civic life in traditional, hybrid, and remote classrooms.


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