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Lesson Idea: The Electoral College and the Constitution


The Constitution provides for a system of electors to elect the President and Vice President of the United States. These electors are chosen to represent each state in the Electoral College. Educating students about this process is essential in developing their understanding of the political process.


Students will:
  • define the Electoral College
  • examine its foundation in the Constitution
  • determine how many electors their state is appointed in the Electoral College
  • explain the process electors go through after the general presidential election in November


  • Popular Vote
  • Electoral Vote
  • Federalist No. 68
  • Winner-take-all
  • Elector
  • Certificates of Ascertainment
  • Certificates of Votes


To activate thinking, engage students in a discussion about the Electoral College. Some questions to begin the conversation are: What do you know about the Electoral College? What role does it play in presidential elections? Why do you think the founders provided for electors? Students can write their ideas on index cards, share them on a class wiki page, or text their responses. Create an aggregate list, discuss students’ ideas, and save the list to compare what they have discovered after the lesson is completed.
Ask students to read the following section of the Constitution that provides for electors. Discuss the method of determining how many electors each state is appointed and who is exempt from being selected as an elector.
Article II, Section 1.
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Read the following excerpt from the Constitution, and discuss the process of electing the president and vice president. Explain that this portion of the Constitution was later modified by the 12th Amendment. View the accompanying video of Historian Don Ritchie discussing the foundation of our voting system. Ask students to describe the process of electing a president and vice president in the two examples that were given in the video clip and explain how it is different from elections today.
Article II, Section 1.
[The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.]*
The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
VIDEO CLIP: Foundation of Our Voting System - (09/15/2008 – 3:47)
Read the excerpt below taken from “The Federalist No. 68, The Mode of Electing the President”, written by Alexander Hamilton, or you may access the link, and have students read the paper in its entirety. Discuss the purpose of the paper, and have students explain Hamilton’s position regarding electors.
It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any pre-established body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
Read the 12th Amendment, and discuss the change in the process of electing the president and vice president; then view the following video of Historian Don Ritchie discussing the 12th Amendment and the elections of 1800 and 1824. Discuss the two elections and how they affected the voting process.
Amendment 12 - Choosing the President, Vice-President. Ratified 6/15/1804.
The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; 
The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.
The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
VIDEO CLIP: 12th Amendment and the Electoral College - (09/15/2008 – 2:42)
How does this apply to current elections? Have students determine the number of electors in their state. You can do this by accessing our Congressional Chronicle website,, and clicking on the Members tab. Once the map has populated, you can click on your state, and your members of Congress will populate. Students can determine the total number of electors who will be representing their state in the next election by adding together the number of members in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
View the following clip and discuss the following questions:
VIDEO CLIP: The Role of Electors - (10/19/2004 – 3:02)
  • Who are the electors?
  • How are they selected?
  • Who do they represent?
  • What is their role in an election?
  • What information is included in the certificates of ascertainment?
  • What are the requirements of being an elector?
  • How many certificates of votes are there?
This step may be completed as a class, individually for homework, or during a computer lab period. View the following videos of the process of electors casting their votes for President and Vice President in each candidate’s home state. Have students answer the questions on their handouts as they view the video, and note any additional observations or questions they have. Discuss students’ responses as a class.
VIDEO CLIP: New York's Electoral College Cast Their Votes (12/19/2016 – 4:01)
VIDEO CLIP: Michigan's Electoral College Cast Their Votes (12/19/2016 – 6:09)
  • Where is this session taking place?
  • Who is present?
  • How are the ballots cast?
  • Does each elector announce their vote or is it a silent vote?
  • Where are the ballots delivered following this process?
View the following clip:
VIDEO CLIP: Electoral College Ballot Arrival (01/06/2017 – 1:02)
VIDEO CLIP: Counting of Electoral College Votes (01/06/2017 – 4:19)

During this session, the votes from each state are presented and verified. Discuss the process and the roles of the officials involved. Ask students to explain the process.
STEP 10. Read the 20th Amendment of the Constitution that provides for the start date of the terms for elected officials. View the videos of the swearing in of the President and Vice President of the United States, and indicate the justices who are swearing in each elected official.
Amendment 20 - Presidential, Congressional Terms. Ratified 1/23/1933. 
1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
January 20, 2012

VIDEO CLIP: President Barack Obama Sworn In (01/21/2013 – 1:10)
VIDEO CLIP: Vice President Joe Biden Sworn In (01/21/2013 – 1:38)

Culminating Activity:

Conduct a Socratic Seminar with your students. View the following video clip, and post the quote below from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 68. Ask students to consider the list that was created at the beginning of the lesson, in addition to the information that was presented throughout the lesson, and explain their interpretation of these words:

VIDEO CLIP: Alexander Hamilton on the Electoral Process (09/15/2008 – 0:39)
“I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. “ – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 68
Students should complete the seminar reflection portion of their handout.