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**of Students, Mathematics teacher,
**

The Wellington School.

ELECTIONS AND VOTING

ELECTION LESSON:

ELECTORAL COLLEGE - BASICS & STATISTICS

1

Election Lesson: The Electoral College, Counting, and Statistics

Time: 2 – 3 days

Target Levels:

• Tier 1: Mostly targeted to advanced Algebra 1 and Geometry students, but can be of

benefit to students of all levels above those.

• Tier 2:Targeted to advanced Algebra 2 and Precalculus students, with good information for

students in Calculus and beyond, as well.

Lesson Summaries:

• Background/Discussion: Civics introduction and discussion

o Discuss the purposes, pros, and cons of the Electoral College system and its

relationship to a representative republic.

• Tier 1:Explore how many ways an Electoral College map can be drawn

o In the Counting Activity, students will pretend to be small countries with two choices

of candidates, to see if they can come up with a way to explain how many different

possible outcomes there are.

o As an entire class, they will come up with a generalization for determining the

number of ways a country using an Electoral College could draw its Electoral map.

They will also consider the complication of there needing to be a "condition" of

winning 270 Electoral votes to be considered the winner.

o In the Voting Power Activity, students will examine Electoral College data to find the

relative voting power of a person in each state.

• Tier 2: Students find an estimate of the minimum population necessary to win an election

in the United States, including voter turnout statistics.

o The Minimum population exercise can be done individually, in groups, or as an entire

class. The purpose is to determine the minimum population possible that could elect

the President, given some voter turnout statistics.

NCSS Curriculum Standards:

• VI.b (purpose of government)

• X.a (ideals of a democratic republican form of government)

• X.f (factors that influence and shape public policy)

Common Core Math Standards:

• A-SSE.1 and A-SSE.2 (interpreting expression structure)

• F-LE.1 (distinguish between linear and exponential models)

• Modeling

These Election Math lessons were developed with support from Battlle by Mark Nandor, Upper School Dean of Students, Mathematics teacher,

The Wellington School.

2

Materials: Electoral College data spreadsheet, calculators

Enduring Understandings:

• Electoral College versus Popular Voting as a method of presidential election

• Probability/Counting methods can be used to evaluate important questions

• At times mathematical intuition can lead to answers only provable through difficult analysis

Essential Questions:

• What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Electoral College system?

• Should the Electoral College system be changed? and if so, in what ways?

• How does the Electoral College affect public policy?

• (Also see the Dynamic Programming lesson plan for a consideration of the Electoral

College outcomes using dynamic programming)

• What are the best methods of determining the number of outcomes that are possible for

multiple, unrelated events?

• How does voter turnout affect elections?

• What are the factors that affect year-to-year fluctuations in voter turnout, and are they

important to the election outcomes?

These Election Math lessons were developed with support from Battlle by Mark Nandor, Upper School Dean of Students, Mathematics teacher,

The Wellington School.

3

Background/Discussion

Instructions: Begin a discussion with your students on the purposes of the Electoral College.

This may also necessitate an explanation of the Electoral College. The purpose of this

introductory conversation is to be informative and interesting, to get the students engaged in the

idea of the Electoral College itself before delving into its mathematics. This portion of the class

could last from 10 minutes to an entire class period, depending on what the goals of the class are,

if the math teacher is jointly working with a social studies teacher, and how interested the students

are in the discussion.

Some key ideas that may act as ideas and concepts students may miss or need to be prompted on

to further the discussion:

• The Electoral College is a system where each state is allotted a certain number of Electors

according to population. The number of Electors is the number of US Congressional

Representatives (based on the decennial census) plus the number of US Senators (2), for a total

of 538 Electoral votes. This might be a convenient time to show the Electoral College

Spreadsheet to the students.

• Since even small-population states get an additional two votes, this gives citizens in these

smaller states "more" voting power. This will be explored in the Tier 1 lesson, but imagine a

state like Wyoming, with population about 568,000 and three electoral votes, and a state like

California, which has a large population of over 37 million, but only 55 electoral votes each.

Point out that in Wyoming there are fewer than 200,000 people per Elector while in California

there are more than 650,000 per Elector. How does this make it so that a vote in Wyoming is

"more powerful" than a vote in California?

• At some point the students may bring up that they believe the president should be elected in a

truly democratic (according to the popular vote) fashion. At this point, here are three major

considerations to extend the discussion:

• What would true democracy look like in the United States? Currently, for instance, federal

laws are developed by Representatives and Senators since the United States is a

representative republic. If the United States were a true democracy, each person in the

country would vote on each piece of legislation. With the widespread use of the Internet

now, is the country on the verge of being able to implement a true democratic system? If so,

is that what is desirable? Regardless of whether all federal laws should be voted on in a

truly democratic manner, does that affect whether the president should be?

• What is the role of the President? Is this person the President of the people of the United

States, or is this person the President of the United States (that is, the states themselves)?

Regardless of the idea of the President's "role," does that change whether he or she should

be popularly elected?

These Election Math lessons were developed with support from Battlle by Mark Nandor, Upper School Dean of Students, Mathematics teacher,

The Wellington School.

4

• Some of the cons of the Electoral College are apparent to most people, but what are the

pros? For instance, if only the popular vote were used to determine the president, would the

farmers and other rural Americans (if considered as a voting bloc) get a say in the election

of the President, given that approximately 80% of the population in the United States is

urban? Should that matter? Does the President's election by Electoral College mean that he

or she is more likely to set public policy evenly across all types of Americans, and is that

even desirable as a goal if most Americans are of some one demographic or another? How

do all of the pros and cons measure against each other?

Tier 1 Mathematics Lesson

The purpose of the Tier 1 lesson plan is to provide mathematics material to lower-level (Algebra,

Geometry, and possibly Pre-Algebra) high school students. It can also be covered with brevity as

an introduction to the Tier 2 mathematics lesson for more advanced students.

Objectives: Use probability and counting skills to determine the number of possible Electoral

College outcomes. Discuss the complications that arise from needing to determine a winner.

Determine citizens' "voting power" depending on in which state the citizens live.

Instructions: Perform the Counting Activity and discuss how it can be extended to other real-life

counting problems (number of ways to get dressed in the morning, number of ways to get to

school, number of Electoral College outcomes if more than two candidates are possible, etc.).

Then perform the "voting power" activity. Depending on time, discuss the inherent assumptions

we are making at this level: no "faithless Electors," all of the state's Electoral votes go to a single

winner (untrue of Maine and Nebraska), all citizens vote, and so forth.

Counting Activity:

• Have students in groups of size one to five. It is okay if there are multiple groups of each

size.

o Let each student in a group represent a state. Have the students in each group figure

out how many outcomes are possible if each state votes for Obama or Romney (or

pick any two politicians, even fictitious). For instance, in a group of three students

the possible outcomes are (OOO, OOR, ORO, ROO, ORR, ROR, RRO, and RRR),

so there are 8 outcomes.

o Bring the students together again as a class and put results on a board (at the very

least, have individual results for three and four on the board for later). See if the

students can figure out the relationship.

o Without going through the group work, how could they have come up with ? That

is, there are two choices for each state (O and R), so there are

possibilities.

o Have them extend to the 51 "states" (including the District of Columbia). How big is

(two and a quarter quadrillion)? Would it be possible to even list out all of the

possible outcomes in an election, even just streaming them on a computer screen? If

These Election Math lessons were developed with support from Battlle by Mark Nandor, Upper School Dean of Students, Mathematics teacher,

The Wellington School.

5

we could scroll through one million possibilities every second, how many years

would it take to run through them all (over 71)?

o In some elections, there is a viable third candidate that could get electoral votes. In

that case, how many possible ways are there to have final outcomes?

• Now organize the students in new groups of three or four, but this time each person gets a

certain number of votes (between 5 and 10, assigned by the teacher) to give to one

candidate. Each group represents a country and each student represents a state.

o Say that the presidential winner needs more than half of the total votes. Using the

previous results for three and four that are still on the board, have the students

determine how many ways there are for one candidate to win the election.

o Is there a simple relationship similar to the result?

o As an extension, have the students brainstorm to see if they can think of a way to

determine all ways to determine the winner other than simply counting all

possibilities.

Voting Power Activity:

• As an entire class, consider the Electoral College spreadsheet data. In particular, either

have the students calculate (or teacher could perform on a projector/board) how many

citizens in California (largest population) it "takes" to have one Elector (678945

voters/Elector). Do the same for the state with the smallest population, Wyoming (189433).

• Discuss what these two numbers mean with respect to "voting power" of a single citizen.

• As time permits, have the students calculate voting power for various other states.

• Consider the column on the spreadsheet labeled "relative power" (the average power for the

national population and number of electors is 1, and all other voting power numbers are

then compared to 1). While looking at the spreadsheet, have the students discuss how

different states compare.

• As time permits, have them discuss if this is "fair" (in whatever way the students feel "fair"

should be defined). If this discussion takes place, make sure to point out that this is only

one way to think about voting power; for instance, how much does a Republican voter's

vote count for in California or New York, and how much does a Democrat voter's vote

count for in Texas? How much more important might a vote be, no matter the party of the

voter, in states like Florida or Ohio, where the votes are typically expected to be close, even

though their mathematical "voting powers" are relatively small?

Assessment Ideas:

• Homework sheet with a hypothetical set of 3 – 5 states and the number of votes each state

gets. Have the students determine the number of ways a winner can be determined.

• Short papers on relative voting powers in an Electoral College system.

• Quiz on hypothetical country with some number of states. This could range from very

straightforward counting, to some simple counting that includes "winning" requirements

such as requiring a certain number of Electoral votes.

These Election Math lessons were developed with support from Battlle by Mark Nandor, Upper School Dean of Students, Mathematics teacher,

The Wellington School.

6

Tier 2 Mathematics Lesson

The purpose of the Tier 2 lesson plan is to provide mathematics material to mid-level (Algebra 2,

Precalculus, and higher) high school students. It can also be covered with brevity as an

introduction to Dynamic Programming lesson for more computer science students.

Objectives: Explore the statistical nature of voter turnout, and its effect on final vote tallies. The

lesson can be extended to discuss statistical variation from year to year.

Instructions:

• Each student will need access to the Electoral College spreadsheet, hopefully on computers,

but it can also be handed out on printed pages. If you have not already discussed voting

power from the Tier 1 exercise, you might consider doing so.

• Have students attempt to determine the minimum population (using 2010 census numbers)

that could determine the outcome of a presidential election, assuming that each state's

winner must garner 50% plus one vote in that state. If the students need hints, have them

consider voting power and sorting the list from highest voting power to lowest voting power.

Adding up the states' Electoral votes in this manner from Wyoming to Georgia should yield

271 votes (one more than necessary to win). Would swapping out any of the states below

Georgia on the list allow us to get exactly 270 Electoral votes with a smaller population (the

answer is yes!)?

o As an extension, how would one go about proving that 67,600,400 is the smallest

possible population that can determine the winner? It seems logical enough given the

data, but what if another combination of switching states possibly lowered that

number? What computer program could be devised to test for the smallest

population? Particularly if the Tier 1 lesson was covered at all, discuss with the

students how large is, and how unreasonable it would be to test all possible

scenarios to find the minimum population. (More on this and on advanced

programming techniques in the Dynamic Programming lesson plan.)

• Note that the national average voter turnout between 1980 and 2008 was 53% (for

presidential-year November elections). How do the calculation and answer differ from the

above when taking turnout into account? What other assumptions went into finding the

winner? For instance, does any state actually require the winner to have a majority of votes,

or do they all only require plurality? Is everyone in a state allowed to vote (most students

cannot, for instance)?

These Election Math lessons were developed with support from Battlle by Mark Nandor, Upper School Dean of Students, Mathematics teacher,

The Wellington School.

7

• There are smaller turnouts in "given" states such as California (49.5% in 2008) and Texas

(45.5% in 2008), larger turnouts in swing states like Ohio (65.1% in 2008). Time

permitting, or for homework, students can look up the state-specific voter turnouts in recent

presidential elections and redo the calculation with these numbers. This can also lead to

discussions of fluctuating voter turnouts depending on how "important" the public believes

that particular election to be. Note that voter turnout can also depend on what other issues

an individual state is considering in that election, and sometimes one party or the other will

put controversial laws or candidates on state ballots in order to draw people to the voting

booth for the presidential election.

o As an extension, students can examine how different voter turnouts could affect the

outcome of an election... or do voter turnouts matter at all in the Electoral College

system we have? Students can also look online for the differences between Democrat,

Republican, and Independent (or other party) turnouts for various states during

different elections.

Assessment Ideas:

• Homework sheet with a hypothetical set of 3 – 5 states, the number of votes each state gets,

voter turnout statistics, and the percentage of votes each candidate receives in each state.

Have the students determine the winner, and what the population is that actually voted for

the winner.

• Short paper on the pros and cons of the Electoral College system, taking voter turnout into

account.

• For the work done in class (or from information found online), have the students answer

some short-answer questions about the total percentage of people who voted for the

president relative to the population of the United States. Is it "fair" that the winner has such

a small percentage of the vote each election? Should elections be mandatory? Discuss

civic responsibilities, etc.

These Election Math lessons were developed with support from Battlle by Mark Nandor, Upper School Dean of Students, Mathematics teacher,

The Wellington School.

Rank State/Territory 2010 Population Electors Relative Power

1 California 37,341,989 55 0.848093262

2 Texas 25,268,418 38 0.865932250

3 New York 19,421,055 29 0.859812095

4 Florida 18,900,773 29 0.883480161

5 Illinois 12,864,380 20 0.895198829

6 Pennsylvania 12,734,905 20 0.904300261

7 Ohio 11,568,495 18 0.895929862

8 Michigan 9,911,626 16 0.929508673

9 Georgia 9,727,566 16 0.947096358

10 North Carolina 9,565,781 15 0.902919839

11 New Jersey 8,807,501 14 0.915279435

12 Virginia 8,037,736 13 0.931296530

13 Washington 6,753,369 12 1.023149594

14 Massachusetts 6,559,644 11 0.965585610

15 Indiana 6,501,582 11 0.974208716

16 Arizona 6,412,700 11 0.987711550

17 Tennessee 6,375,431 11 0.993485437

18 Missouri 6,011,478 10 0.957849128

19 Maryland 5,789,929 10 0.994500789

20 Wisconsin 5,698,230 10 1.010504834

21 Minnesota 5,314,879 10 1.083390414

22 Colorado 5,044,930 9 1.027225366

23 Alabama 4,802,982 9 1.078971369

24 South Carolina 4,645,975 9 1.115434341

25 Louisiana 4,553,962 8 1.011530436

26 Kentucky 4,350,606 8 1.058811386

27 Oregon 3,848,606 7 1.047304471

28 Oklahoma 3,764,882 7 1.070594582

29 Connecticut 3,581,628 7 1.125371555

30 Iowa 3,053,787 6 1.131334103

31 Mississippi 2,978,240 6 1.160031890

32 Arkansas 2,926,229 6 1.180650378

33 Kansas 2,863,813 6 1.206382322

34 Utah 2,770,765 6 1.246895127

35 Nevada 2,709,432 6 1.275120902

36 New Mexico 2,067,273 5 1.392677445

37 West Virginia 1,859,815 5 1.548027347

38 Nebraska 1,831,825 5 1.571680963

39 Idaho 1,573,499 4 1.463766792

These Election Math lessons were developed with support from Battlle by Mark Nandor, Upper School Dean of Students, Mathematics teacher,

The Wellington School.

Need 270 for victory

Total Population 309,785,186

Total Electors 538

Average Power 575,808.896

"Relative Power" is the voting power of a state

relative to the average power in the country.

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