Do We Really Need the Electoral College?—Conducting a Poll
Every four years, many Americans ask the same question: Do we really need the Electoral College?
The existence of the Electoral College reminds us that ours is a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy. We elect representatives to represent our interests in government. Likewise, our individual votes result in electors who represent, so to speak, the state’s vote in the general election.
What Were They Thinking?
The framers of the Constitution devised the Electoral College in the 1780s because few Americans at the time could read and communication from place to place was poor. The framers also hoped that electors would be chosen from the best-educated people in each state—this was a time when advanced education was rare.
The Electoral College has also led to the curious situation in which candidates who received the most popular votes did not have enough electoral votes to win the presidency. This chart shows four elections in which this happened, most recently in 2000.
Where Electors Come From
The National Archives and Records Administration supervises the Electoral College. Each state is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of its two U.S. senators plus the number of its U.S. Representatives. A state’s population determines its congressional delegation. The state’s population figures come from the Federal Census that is taken every 10 years.
Consider the Positions
Now that students have a better understanding of the Electoral College, display or describe the following positions for and against the system.
Conduct a Poll
Use the poll chart below to poll 10 adults about their opinions on the Electoral College. Remind students that, as pollsters, they should remain as neutral as possible. They should be familiar with the basics of the Electoral College as well as pros and cons listed above in case their subjects want more information.
Before asking the poll question, have students obtain some basic information from each subject:
- Is the person a registered voter?
- Did he or she vote in the 2008 election?
- Does he or she plan to vote in the 2012 election?
Subjects’ responses to the poll question may be recorded as Yes (Y), No (N), or Undecided/Don’t Know (U).
If subjects have additional comments on the poll question, these may be recorded in the Comment column in the chart.
Present the Results
Once students have completed their polls, ask a volunteer to write the results on the board, tallying the total Yes votes, the total No votes, and the total Undecided/Don’t Know votes. Ask for volunteers to relate some of the comments that they received during the poll. Keep the discussion focused by staying on the topic of the Electoral College rather than any of this year’s candidates or unrelated issues.
Conduct a class discussion in how the Electoral College creates a “winner-take-all” election situation. Remind students to consult the table above that includes past election data. During this discussion, take note of whether or not student responses clearly show an understanding of the Electoral College and its implications for presidential elections.
In addition, have students write a short essay predicting how the end of the Electoral College might affect the election process and, in particular, the two-party system.
To take this activity even further, conduct a class debate on the poll question. Remind students to take their arguments from the Yes/No positions described above, from the poll responses, and from their own research.