Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Electoral College* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

We the People… don’t actually elect our President and Vice President.

At least, not directly.

The role the Electoral College plays in the election of the President and Vice President of the United States often surprises people. A popular idea is that individuals go to the polls and cast their own vote for president and that, in turn, the candidate with the most popular votes wins the election.

That’s not really how it works. Individual voters are actually voting for electors in the Electoral College… well, let’s have the resources explain it.

Instructional Idea

rwb_sos_starSpotlight on Strategies: 25 Things You Didn’t Know

25 Things You Didn’t Know is a teaching strategy that allows students to explore resources and filter out important details. Students identify new information from media resources and share the information in order to create a collaborative list of facts.  Divide students into five groups, and assign each group a suggested Electoral College resource.

Have students note at least five facts about the Electoral College that they learned from their resource.  Then, have groups share their five facts, compiling unique facts into a single list.

Extend the exercise by having each group focus on a particular facet of the Electoral College, such as History of Electoral College, Selection of Electors, Criticisms of the Electoral College, etc.

Featured Resources

Stuff You Should Know Podcast: How the Electoral College Works

Audio, Grades 6-12, Discovery Education Streaming

When you vote in an American presidential election, you’re not voting for your candidate – you’re voting for a group of people you hope will in turn vote for your candidate. Listen in to learn more about the strange process for electing the president.

Electoral College Infographic

Activity, Grades 6-12, Discovery Education Social Studies Techbook

Provides information about the Electoral College and its role in the election process.

Chase the Race: The Popular Vote and Electoral College

Full Video (4:23), Grades 6-12, Discovery Education Streaming

This video covers a number of topics related to the voting process in the United States. The program delves into why every vote matters and examines the difference between the popular and electoral vote.

Additional Resources

Sometimes, the best way to understand a potentially confusing process is by watching a short and direct video segment. Here are three similar segments that use slightly different approaches to explain the topic.

the-electoral-college-and-election-day-process_circleThe Electoral College and Election Day Process

Video Segment (3:52), Grades K-5, Discovery Education Streaming

This cartoon-style video describes the function of the United States Electoral College. The program describes the composition of each state’s electorate and provides examples of times when the popular vote had a different result than the Electoral College’s vote.

electoral-college_circleElectoral College

Video Segment (3:58), Grades K-8, Discovery Education Streaming

This video combines a host with animation to help students learn how the Electoral College works for voting.

how-the-electoral-college-works_circle How the Electoral College Works

Full Video (1:06), Grades 3-12, Discovery Education Streaming

This short, digitally animated video illustrates the process by which the 538 electors who represent the 50 states vote according to the popular vote in their respective states.

More Election Day Resources

Sign up for our Election Day Virtual Viewing Party on November 8, 1:00 PM (ET) to join a discussion about the history of the United States’ democratic process and explore how the President is elected.

This blog post also shares additional resources to help your students learn about the election process so they can be educated and informed voters or future voters.


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