What is the electoral college? Why does it matter?

How did George W. Bush actually become President of the United States?

After all, he received fewer popular votes for President than Al Gore, didn’t he? How could Al Gore win the popular vote and still lose the 2000 U.S. Presidential election? The short, unpleasant answer is that the popular vote doesn’t count – and the only vote that matters in electing presidents in the United States is the electoral college.

What is the electoral college? How many votes does your state have in the real United States presidential election? If you teach U.S. history, EL/Civics, or just vote in U.S. elections, you already know these answers – and your students and friends should too!

Check out the easy to use electoral college map hosted by the Los Angeles Times. This educational map game can become addictive – especially for people who are following the presidential race.  Among the many interesting features is that the default setting, based on the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, shows Senator McCain with a clear electoral college advantage over Senator Obama. Amidst the daily national polls, it’s easy for U.S. citizens – let alone adult immigrants and citizenship students – to forget this vital fact.

You can also go to the fine Wikipedia article on the peculiar history and strange institution called the United_States_Electoral_College. Bottomline: your vote matters less than it should in the 21st century!

By the way, I’m one of those folks that wants to abolish the electoral college as a sad legacy of both aristocratic ideals and slave-era logic. Direct elections work just fine. Since abolishing the electoral college seems very, very difficult, we should – it seems to me – at least switch from a winner take all system for each state to a fairer system where each congressional district chooses its own electors. Adopting this more transparent, honest “tiered” system would quickly reveal the huge divide between urban and rural America across the country. If Senator Obama wins the popular vote and still loses the electoral college, I expect more Democrats to rediscover their discomfort with the very undemocratic electoral college. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen!

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One comment

  1. Simon – Thank you for your kind words.

    For better or worse, I do all my own writing. The advantages are authenticity; the disadvantage is that I only have time to post a few times a month. I also tend to wander a bit more than my web adviser thinks one should, but my whole educational philosophy is based on being open to a wide variety of topics and conversations.

    Good luck with your online adventures! Thanks for visiting.

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