Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teaching Elections

So it is election season and for us teachers that means discussing the election.  This is a nice lesson plan for grades 3-6 from HNN.

Something that always comes up for me this time of year is the electoral college, which my US survey class is heading into.  I thought I'd share a bit on that from my lecture notes:
Even with all the problems facing the United States, the country has continued to show the “vitality of democracy” that your text talks about when discussing Watergate. This same can be said of the Clinton trial. Only the second president to be impeached, Clinton kept his office (as did the first – Andrew Johnson). The same is true of the 2000 election. When the founding fathers set up the Electoral College, they were leery of completely direct elections. There is no pretty way to say it, but they wanted to have a check in place for if the people really screwed up this new fangled idea of voting in a leader. Voting for senators is even a fairly new event (1913). So the people vote, a representative goes and votes what the people said. For the most part, this is a pretty clear cut system. Most states have laws saying that the electors have to vote the way the majority of the people did. That isn’t the problem. The issue is that all the electoral votes of a state go to the person who won that state – there is no splitting it up. So for instance is Andrew and John were running and Andrew got 52% of California’s vote and John got 48%, Andrew would get ALL of California’s electoral votes. So depending on how numbers and states get split, you can win the electoral vote, but LOSE the popular vote – this is what happened in 2000. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but it was the messiest. There are a lot of arguments for completely tossing the electoral college, but others want to keep this traditional part of our government. One recent argument (mainly in CA) is for changing the way electoral votes are distributed, meaning that if you got 52% of the popular vote, you’d get 52% of the electoral votes or at least do it by district (which is how electoral votes are allotted anyway), so that if you won District A, you got their votes whereas if you the other candidate won in District B, s/he’d get those votes.
A side issue to this topic is that our current system makes it hard for a three party to rise and get any votes. Check out this article on how third parties have to get on the ballot. This is also something most voters don't realize that - you you can't just say you want on a ballot!  There is a process and while the two major parties are pretty much guaranteed one, third parties aren't.

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