Framers’ Design for the Electoral College

Time for Reform?

Overview

Students might think that when they are old enough, they vote for the United States President. In reality, they indirectly vote for U.S. President by voting to send a slate of electors to their state capital who then vote for the President. The combined electors for each state, plus the District of Columbia, comprise the Electoral College. 

This lesson explores why the Framers in the 1787 Constitutional Convention created the Electoral College. In short, most of the debates in the Convention about selecting an Executive centered on Congress choosing the President. To build in some form of separation of powers between the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch, the Framers designed a group of electors who did not currently hold public office to choose the President. After learning the historical constraints on electing the President at the time of the creation of the Constitution, students will make their own recommendations for selecting the President.

At the time of the creation of the Constitution, the federal government could not conduct a national election, so the delegates in the Constitutional Convention relied on the states to run  the presidential election and gave only vague directions for their constitutional responsibility. As a result, each state ran elections differently. By the 1830s, most states began practicing a winner-takes-all system where the party that won the popular election in the state could select all the state’s electors. This process–not in the Constitution–makes it more possible for a candidate to secure the Presidency by losing the popular vote, but winning the Electoral College, which happened in the presidential elections of 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. 

Increasingly, critics call for abolishing the Electoral College, or at least reforming it, especially because of the ⅗ Compromise’s impact on the Electoral College. Students will consider the possibilities and impact of changing the Electoral College and make recommendations for reform.

The 3Rs Framework

The Utah 3Rs Project promotes the civic understanding of constitutional rights by using humanities education to promote the 3Rs of religious liberty: every person has Rights; we all have the Responsibility to protect the rights of others, including people who are different; and we all have the duty to be Respectful toward other people even when we disagree.

The Utah 3Rs Project is a civic education initiative that uses humanities scholarship to cultivate students’ knowledge about the origins and effects of the First Amendment’s religion clauses. Our objective is to create a constitutional culture in Utah, whose residents respect and honor one another’s differences. This is especially critical in our current political moment as polarization increases and political attention for the marginalized has amplified.

Learning Objectives

By using The Framer’s Design for the Electoral College, students will…

  1. Recognize how the Electoral College functions; 
  2. Discover why the Framers is in the 1787 Constitutional Convention created the Electoral College; 
  3. Understand the ⅗ Compromise’s impact on the Electoral College; 
  4. Explore the historical development of the winner-takes-all component of the Electoral College; 
  5. Evaluate possible reforms for the Electoral College. 

Ways to Use this Lesson Plan

Option 1. Asynchronous Assignment. The lessons are designed for students grades 7 to 12 to use at their own pace. Assign the videos and interactives and ask them to send you written reflections on the discussion questions.

Option 2. Synchronous Exercises. Use a video conferencing platform to gather your students. Watch the videos and interact with the lessons together in real time. Use the discussion questions to engage and assess their learning.

Option 3. Hybrid Experience. Combine both asynchronous and synchronous learning. Start by assigning the videos and interactives as homework. Whether you gather your students in person or via a video conferencing, use the discussion questions to engage and assess their learning.

Option 4. Classroom Experience. Use a large screen in the classroom to show the  videos and use the discussion questions to engage them. Demonstrate on the large screen how to use the interactives as part of your in-person learning experience.

Utah Learning Standards

United States History I, U.S. I Standard 4.1 (8th Grade) :
Students will explain how the ideas, events, and compromises which led to the development and ratification of the Constitution are reflected in the document itself.

United States History I, U.S. I Standard 5.1 (8th Grade) :
Students will use evidence to document the development and evolution of the American political party system and explain the historic and current roles of political parties.

United States History II (High School) 

Civic Preparation

One of the fundamental purposes for public schools is the preparation of young people for participation in America’s democratic republic. The future progress of our communities, state, nation, and world rests upon the preparation of young people to collaboratively and deliberatively address problems, to defend their own rights and the rights of others, and to balance personal preferences with the common good. Social studies and history classrooms are the ideal venues to nurture civic virtue, consider current issues, learn how to act civilly toward others, build a civic identity, and nurture global awareness. These skills, habits, and qualities of character will better prepare students to recognize and accept responsibility for preserving and defending their liberties.

To that end, throughout this course, students should have ample opportunities to:

  • Engage in deliberative, collaborative, and civil dialogue regarding historical and current issues.
  • Apply knowledge of governmental structure, historical concepts, geographic interrelationships, and economic principles to analyze and explain current events.
  • Identify local, state, national, or international problems; consider solutions to these problems; and share their ideas with appropriate public and/or private stakeholders.
  • Develop and demonstrate the values that sustain America’s democratic republic, such as open-mindedness, engagement, honesty, problem-solving, responsibility, diligence, resilience, empathy, self-control, and cooperation.

 

U.S. Government and Citizenship, Standard 3.4 (High School):
Students will use data to evaluate election results and explain election processes and strategies.

 

Funders

We are grateful for funding from The Foundation for Religious Literacy and Craig and Connie Thatcher Foundation for making this curriculum possible. 

Craig and Connie Thatcher Foundation

Partner

This lesson draws from the research platform Quill Project at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. To visit a curated collection highlighting every instance the Framers in the Constitutional Convention debated the office of the American President, click the logo below. 

About the Author

Eleesha Tucker, M.A., the Utah 3Rs Project director and history/civics educator, brings ten years of experience designing educational resources for educators. She is known for connecting the history of America’s founding to contemporary audiences. She is based in Utah.