We the people: 270 out of 538
- Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify, in Article 2, of the United States Constitution the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. President as envisioned by the founders of the U.S. government. Go to the National Constitution Center website for the text and an explanation of Article 2. There are two roles/responsibilities of the U.S. President as outlined in Article 2 of the Constitution. He is to be the head of the military (as Commander in Chief); he has the power to execute treaties, appoint high level officials who will represent the nation and serve as leaders in the executive branch of the government along with him. A key responsibility and an institution of our democracy is the requirement that he provide the citizens of the United States with a periodic update about the condition of the nation (State of the Union).
- Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to identify in Article 2 of the United States Constitution the conditions upon which a person is elected president. Ask students to record their responses on separate sheets of paper. This question can be answered in two ways: students may choose to explain that a president can only be a citizen of the United States, a resident for at least 14 years and a person at least 35 years old. The second explanation to the question explains the electoral process. The President of the United States is elected by a body of citizens called electors who are chosen by state legislators on behalf of the citizens of a state. The number of electors is proportional to the population as determined by the number of representatives in Congress plus the two Senators. It is important to note that every state in the U.S. has two Senators and a number of representatives directly proportional to the number of people that populate the state.
- Start the learning activity by posing a question to the class: "when is Election Day?" Most students will know that elections are generally held in November for federal government positions. They may not recognize that federal elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November though. In 2004, Election Day will be on November 2nd. Ask them to think about why elections were held in November and why on the Tuesday after the first Monday of the month. Go to the AP website and click on the Electoral College link.
- Ask students to record the explanation for each of these specific conditions for election. Have a class discussion about why these dates are still observed. Students will learn that Election Day was held in November because the US was a largely agricultural economy when it was established; farmers, the voting citizens of the country, would find it difficult to engage in politics during or before harvest. The 1st day of the month was generally held as a day for local government issues and to avoid what we now call the "back to work Monday blues," Tuesday was chosen as the best day for this type of civic engagement.
- Distribute copies of the U.S. CONSTITUTION and ask students to turn to page 6. Instruct students to highlight on their hardcopy document the text that coincides with the AP website explanation for the electoral process. Section 1 of Article 2 details the electoral process. The visual representation provided by the AP website is a very good way for students to conceptualize this very complex dimension of our government.
- There is one very important nuance that distinguishes the ideal situation established in 1787 for elections and the reality of a dynamic government: the difference between the electoral vote and the popular vote. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to consider what the difference between the two might be-the difference between popular votes and electoral votes. Student responses may vary but should indicate that in an ideal situation, there is no difference because the U.S. has a representative democracy. Because elected officials represent the population, there should be no difference; the disparity between the two is a result of our proportional representation…small states have fewer representatives (likewise many large states have more representatives) so it is quite conceivable that population dynamics can change the results of an election. It actually happened in 2000.
- Go to the Video on Demand Web site and PLAY "The Almost Painless Guide to the Election Process: The Electoral College." Start the clip from the beginning and PAUSE at 1:11. On the screen you will see a bullet that states "electoral college vote usually reflects popular vote." Discuss with students why the word "usually" is an important inclusion in this statement. While it is true that the popular vote is normally an indicator of the electoral vote, it is not always the case. There are four examples when the popular choice for President has been different from the electoral choice. RESUME the video and play the remainder of the clip.
- Ask students what source of information was used to determine the number of representatives each state would have in Congress? Ask them how many electoral votes they think the citizens of their state have during presidential elections? Go to the Electoral College Map Web site. Instruct students to roll their mouse over their state to determine how many electoral votes their state will exercise in the 2004. The number of representatives is determined by the population as described by Census data for 2000. For adult students in the room, you might want to facilitate a discussion of what they can recall about the data collection methods of the U.S. government during the 2000 Census. Pose questions like: Do you think the data collection methods were valid? Do you think that you and your family members were counted? Why or why not? Answers to the initial question of representation will vary depending on which state you are in but an interesting dialogue will likely develop when you consider past election demographics and elections that occurred after 2000.
- Ask students to spend some time researching online the question: "in what years have the popular vote been different from the electoral vote?" This search may be difficult to complete online but the answers can be found. Go to the Electoral College Calculator page to find the answer in the left-hand column ("Debunking Myths") or obtain hard-copy data from a New York Times supplement entitled "The Electoral College" (April 20, 2004). 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000 were all election years when the popular vote and the electoral vote were different. Explore the Federal Register Web site for the answers to some frequently asked questions about the electoral process and historical outcomes.
Write a letter to your congressman. Go to the Yahoo! Election 2004 web page
and asks students to find the radio dialogue box titled "Your elected officials
." Tell them to enter their zip code to determine their legislature representative. Ask the students to write and send an email or a standard letter. Suggest they write about one of the following:
- ask your representative questions you might be having about their role.
- ask your representative for tickets for a White House tour.
- show your support for the job that they are doing as "your" voice in Congress.
- Debate the abolishment of the Electoral College. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter tried to amend the Constitution on this issue. The change was never adopted; since the 2000, the first time in American history when the result of the final election was determined by a Supreme Court decision, the challenges to Article 2 that have resurfaced have been fueled by fear and anger. Empower students to understand by engaging students in a well-researched discussion of the issues. Use editorials on the subject as a basis for understanding the issues and gather population and demographic data from Census details or other public documents. Use the U.S. CONSTITUTION as the primary guide.
- View documentary films about the history of the 2000 election. Visit the Web site for the documentary film, Unprecedented, to preview one such film. Consider the challenges to democracy that arose during this time in American history and ways in which citizens still exercise their liberties to speak in a harshly competitive, resistant, political climate.
- A prediction of the impending election results were accessed on October 10th from http://www.electoral-vote.com, as seen in the below image. After the election on November 2nd compare the prediction to what actually happened.