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Appraising the Electoral College

What’s the Deal with the Electoral College?

Every four years Americans head to the polls to select the presidential candidate they like best. Most people think their vote is a direct link to the candidate of their choice – but things aren’t quite that simple. In reality, individuals vote for an elector who has pledged to vote for a particular candidate. After the main election, these electors convene and cast their votes to determine who will become the next president.

The Electoral College has many quirks and complexities than can be difficult to explain, and it can create a few problems from time to time. One of the main problems is that presidential candidates don’t have to win the popular vote in order to win the electoral vote and therefore the presidency. This scenario has played out three times in our history, most recently in 2000. Another thorny issue is that electors do not have to vote for the candidate that the majority of the people in their state has voted for. These so-called “faithless electors” can support anyone they choose, and sometimes do.

In this eLesson, learn more about how the Electoral College functions and why the Framers thought it was a good idea. You’ll be able to view two videos debating whether the Electoral College works for the greater good, and you can explore historical election result maps.


What is the Electoral College?
Why did the Framers create the Electoral College?
Documents of Freedom: Elections
How the Electoral College Works,” How Stuff Works
Video: “Do you Understand the Electoral College?” PragerU (Pro-EC)
Video: “The Trouble with the Electoral College,” CGP Gray (Anti-EC)
Electoral College Maps Since 1789,” 270 To Win
Interactive 2016 Presidential Campaign Map,” 270 To Win

Discussion Questions

  1. Is the Electoral College a good way of ensuring each voter is represented equally? If not, do you think it is important that each vote person’s vote count equally?
  2. Why did the Framers create the Electoral College? What were the historical arguments behind their decision?
  3. What is the difference between a democracy and a republic? Why did the Founders dislike democratic systems? Why did they believe republican forms of government were superior?
  4. Do you think the Electoral College has functioned the way it was intended? Is the U.S. political system more democratic or republican in nature in the present day?
  5. When has the Electoral College elected a president who did not win the popular vote? Do you believe that this possibility must be resolved, or is the system working as intended?
  6. What are some of the common criticisms of the Electoral College? What are the common arguments in defense of the Electoral College? Which do you believe are more persuasive and why?
  7. Do you think the Electoral College still functions well in the present day? Why or why not?
  8. Should the Electoral College be preserved or replaced? If you think it should be replaced, what do you believe should replace it?