The debates are over, and election night is fast approaching. Here are some ideas for election night activities and lessons.
1. Fact-check the candidates
It has long been accepted as fact that all politicians lie, but in the modern information age, it’s easier than ever to immediately call them on it and share the truth with the public. Politifact.com is a fact-checking website that does exactly that. A politician says something and within minutes fact-checkers are rating the truth of the statement. Show your students Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s scorecards on Politifact, pointing out that both have made statements receiving “Mostly False,” “False” and “Pants on Fire” ratings. As homework, have each student select a false statement told by or about one of the candidates and ask them to come back the next day prepared to inform their classmates about both the lie and the facts behind it. As the students present the facts, ask them to consider and discuss these questions.
- What do politicians have to gain from lying to the American public, particularly when they are so often called out on it?
- Is there a difference between lying about yourself and lying about your opponent?
- Is it still wrong when everyone does it, or is it merely a part of the political game?
- Is it unrealistic to expect honesty from politicians, or is it something we should expect as the norm as Americans become more informed?
2. The electoral college or the popular vote?
As mentioned in our Presidential Election video, the outcome of the election is decided not by popular vote, but by the electoral college. This system was devised by the Founding Fathers as a compromise between election by Congress and election by popular vote. Supporters insist the method protects the smaller states, whose votes might otherwise be lost among the votes from the more populated states. On the other hand, detractors point out that it gives smaller states a disproportionately large say.
The number of electoral votes for each state is the total of their members of Congress—two senators and a number of representatives proportional to the state’s population. The least populous states still get one representative; together with the two senators, that means all states have at least three electoral votes. Wyoming, the least populous state with approximately 568,158 people, gets three electoral votes, while California, the most populous state with approximately 37,691,912 people, gets fifty-five. While California does get over eighteen times as many electoral votes as Wyoming, California’s population is actually sixty-six times that of Wyoming. To put it another way, a vote in Wyoming is worth 3.6 times as much as a vote in California. In light of this, ask your students these discussion questions.
- Is this a fair way to decide the outcome of an election?
- Is it still a fair method when the result of the electoral and popular votes are different?
- Would the popular vote be more fair, in giving every American citizen of voting age an equal say, or less fair, in allowing more populous states to have a much bigger say than those with the smallest populations?
3. Tally up the results
On the night of the election, ask your students to keep track of the electoral votes as each state is called. When the newscasters talk about a candidate winning a state with 63% of the popular vote, they mean that the candidate got all of that state’s electoral votes, not 63% of them. Whoever wins the election will likely have a number of electoral votes disproportionate to the number of votes they actually received. On Wednesday, tally up the results with your students. Compare the electoral vote the candidates received to their percentages of the popular votes. Continue the previous day’s discussion in light of this election’s results.