For Schools

High School Students
Let's Play Jeopardy!
Today's Topic: The Electoral College

Here is a lesson that can be done by a lawyer-volunteer with an interest in politics. Other good volunteer presenters would be an elector from the last presidential election representing the congressional district in which the school is located, a member of the League of Women Voters, or a constitutional lawyer or historian, who could also debate reforms proposed for the Electoral College system.

Objectives

As a result of this lessons, students will:

  • List the presidential election steps
  • Identify the role of political parties in the election of the president
  • Evaluate the need for reform in the Electoral College system

Time Needed: 1-2 class periods

Materials Needed: Student Handout (.pdf), Electoral College article (.pdf, optional), copies of the U.S. Constitution, timer or clock with second hand, award for winner of Jeopardy game (optional)

Procedures

1. Before the community volunteer's appearance, have students develop an understanding of the Electoral College in preparation for the Jeopardy game. Students could read the article on the Electoral College (.pdf), relevant portions of the U.S. Constitution, and the Student Handout.

2. You may wish to have students participate in a jigsaw exercise in which they teach assigned sections of the reading to other students.

3. To play the Jeopardy game, divide the class into even-numbered teams, e.g., by rows. Students may move their chairs closer together to confer. Draw the following chart on the board, or use a prepared overhead transparency with the four topic areas as headings and the point values listed underneath. Also, put a score sheet on the board by writing Team A, Team B, etc., for each team.


ConstitutionElectionsFoundersElectors
10101010
20202020
30303030
40404040
50505050

a. Explain to students that this game is based on the TV game show Jeopardy!, but it is not exactly the same. First of all, students will score points in teams (not as individuals) by correctly answering questions (rather than making up questions to answers provided). In addition, all teams begin with a 50-point score.

b. Some lottery arrangement determines which team gets to start.

c. The starting team has the right to select any of the four topic areas for any point value, e.g., Constitution for 50. As the question associated with the point value gets harder, the more points the question is worth. The 10-point questions are easiest, and the 50-point questions, hardest. The team has 30 seconds to select a topic and point value. Once the team has selected, the instructor will read the question from the following list that is matched to the topic and point value.

d. At this point, any member of any team may raise a hand to answer the question. It does not have to be answered by the team that selected the question. It is crucial that the instructor fairly identify the order in which hands are raised. Perhaps a student could be selected to assist with this aspect of the game.

e. The team that has been identified as the first to raise a hand has 15 seconds to decide on an answer. Students may consult any written materials and with any members of their team.

f. If the team is correct, the score sheet on the board should get the point value put under that team's name.

g. If the team is not correct or does not respond within 15 seconds, the team loses the amount of points for that question. Any of the other teams may answer the question within 15 seconds, gaining or losing points depending upon whether or not they are correct. If the question remains unanswered, with no team raising a hand, the instructor provides the answer.

h. The team correctly answering the prior question selects the next topic at a particular point value. If the prior question went unanswered or was answered incorrectly, the team picking the prior question selects again.

i. Once a topic for a particular point value has been asked, the instructor erases or puts an X through that point value.

j. During the course of the game, a selection of a question may result in the "Daily Double Question." Only the team selecting what turns out to be the daily double question has the right to answer the question. If successful, they get double the point value.

k. At the end of all the 20 squares of point values, the instructor totals each team's score (alternatively, at the end of 40 minutes). At this point, each team decides how much it wishes to risk in answering the "Final Jeopardy Question." Students may risk zero to all of their points. If they answer the question correctly, they earn the amount risked. If they are wrong, they lose the amount risked.

l. Students write on a piece of paper the amount risked with the name of their team and hand it to the instructor. The instructor then asks all teams the "Final Jeopardy Question." The teams have 30 seconds to answer in writing. Their final answer is placed with the person in the front seat of each row. Each team reports from the paper what the team's answer is, and the instructor reveals the point value at risk.

m. The winning team is the team with the highest point total.

n. If an award is available, it should be presented now.

Questions and Answers for Jeopardy Game

Constitution
10 points
What section of the Constitution provides that the president and vice president shall be elected by electors?
Article II, Section I, Paragraph 2.

20 points
What amendment provides that the president and vice president shall be separate in the candidacy for each position?
Twelfth Amendment.


30 points
How does the Constitution determine how many electors each state will have?
Each state gets a number of electors equal to the number of senators and representatives.

40 points
Where are the political parties mentioned in the Constitution?
Nowhere.

50 points
How many votes does each House of Representatives member get if the election is decided in the House?
All the representatives from each state combine together to cast one vote.

Elections
10 points
How many times in history has the election of the president been decided by a vote in the House of Representatives?
Two times.

20 points
In what two election years was the president chosen by the House of Representatives?
1800 and 1824.

30 points
How many times in American history has a president been elected who did not have the largest popular vote?
Four times.

40 points
List two of the four election years that a president was elected who did not have the largest popular vote.
Students should list two of these three dates: 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000.

50 points Daily Double Question (Special instructions for the Daily Double Question. Only the team that selected this question has a chance to answer and to earn twice the points, i.e., 100 points. Students have 30 seconds to answer.)
Give at least one reason why some founders objected to direct election of the president.
Two reasons include (1) ignorance of the voters and (2) vastness of the U.S. would limit voters' having enough information on the candidates to vote intelligently.

Founders
10 points: True or False
There was agreement among the founders of the United States about how to elect a president.
False.


20 points: True or False
Exploring how to elect the president, the founders considered giving Congress the power to elect the president.
True.

30 points: True or False
The president is elected directly by the people every four years.
False.

40 points
Name at least two proposals to select the president that the founders of the United States considered.
They considered more than 15 proposals, including having elections by Congress or one of its houses, by various state officials, by electors, or by direct popular vote.

50 points
Name at least two objections of some founders to having Congress elect the president.
Some founders feared that election by Congress would not reward merit, would make the president dependent upon Congress, and would be "the work of intrigue, of cabal, and of faction."

Electors
10 points: True or False
The process for "appointing" presidential electors may vary from state to state.
True.

20 points: True or False
The term Electoral College is not found in the Constitution.
True. Article II, Section I, Paragraph 2, talks about electors, but not an Electoral College.

30 points: True or False
The Constitution does not provide for the popular election of the president or anyone else.
False. While the Constitution does not provide for the direct popular election of the president, it does provide for the popular election of the U.S. senators and representatives.

40 points
What does it mean to have a "winner-take-all" approach to choosing electors?
All states have a system of choosing electors on the basis of who gets the most votes, and not according to the percentage of votes. Almost all states apply the winner-take-all principle to the state as a whole, but two—Maine and Nebraska—apply it also to congressional districts within the state, so that the winner of the state popular vote receives two electors, but the winner of each district is also accorded an elector. Thus a state might divide its electoral vote between the candidates. One candidate might receive electors for winning the overall state vote and two congressional districts, for example, but the other candidate could receive the electoral vote of the other congressional district by winning its popular vote. If a candidate won the state popular vote and the popular vote in every congressional district, he or she would receive all of the state's electoral college votes.

50 points
Who chooses the slate of electors to run in each state?
The political parties.

Final Jeopardy Question
When all 20 squares have been used up (alternatively, when 40 minutes have passed), the teams are then ready for the Final Jeopardy Question. Each team, knowing its point total, is free to risk as many or as few points as it wishes. All teams are eligible to play.

If there is not a majority of electoral votes for vice president, who decides who will be vice president?
Under the Twelfth Amendment, if there is no majority of total electoral votes for vice president, the winner is determined by the U.S. Senate from the top two candidates, each senator having one vote. (Students need only identify the Senate to correctly answer the question.)

This article was written by Margaret E. Fisher, director of the Institute for Citizen Education and the Law at the Seattle University School of Law in Tacoma, Washington. It first appeared in the ABA publication, Update on Law-Related Education, 20.3, 1996, © 1996 American Bar Association.


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