Election Lesson

I did an election lesson in 2014 with my after school club (8 kids). We talked about all the interesting things that were on the ballot across the US at the time – limiting high capacity weapons, limiting wolf hunting, Colorado’s pot laws, class size limits, start time for schools, and something about moonshine in the deep south. It was nice for me to research what the country was up to and it was fun to do a lesson that held their usually fickle interest.

Part of the reason we have this job is to expose this hyper homogenized country to the world around it – telling them that American students don’t take their shoes off at school blows their minds. It blows our minds they can’t imagine a different world or a different culture other than their own. Also South Korean/US relations are very high. 84% of Koreans have a favorable opinion of the US. One of the most favorable countries out there. They were very invested and interested in our election. Both of us made election lessons to present the candidates and most importantly the electoral college. We wanted to explain this stuff to them directly – not them hearing misinformation from just their news. Which was very pro-Clinton. I also wanted to explain what ifs – and boy was I glad I did. Regardless of who won I wanted them to understand the electoral college so they could understand American politics generally – not just for this election.

If they could vote 82% of Koreans would’ve voted for Clinton. At the same time they agree more with Trump’s immigration policy, abortion and gay marriage ideas. But they don’t know this because their media doesn’t really report on it. Just that Clinton is good, Trump is bad. My students honestly cannot see Clinton as anything other than a demigod. We didn’t see any of the candidates as demigods or really anything so we gave a very impartial lesson not saying anyone was worse or better than anyone else.

My lesson went like this: Talk about why we’re having an election – how many years our presidents can run and how many terms. Korea, if you were wondering,  is a 5 year term with no reelection. So we establish Obama’s time is up. Then we talked about the day of the election. This was surprising because Koreans vote for a president on different days than general elections. Also they don’t even vote for local issues and don’t even have vice presidents. So we spend a while comparing the differences.

We go over what the parties believe in, who the candidates are, and what kinds of people vote for different parties. dsc06138

Then we did the electoral college. It was  a massive generalization but we called it “points” rather than what it actually is. It’s easier to say “Colorado has nine points” than explain it all out.

Every time we’ve ever talked about the electoral college with people who speak English as a second language- a Bulgarian, a Spaniard and some Koreans – they have shut down to the idea of the electoral college. Wait-wait-what?? It gets so bad they start to doubt their English language skills.

So the students looked on in confusion and horror as we talk about how the “points” are based on population and that you only need to have the highest percent of votes in a state to win all the points. They understood it and understood how someone could win the popular vote (Gore) and still lose the election.

Practice with Maps

To help them understand I would hand out a map that has the state names and “points” so the kids could see for themselves. It also breaks the lesson up because they love guessing and looking for states like a massive game of Where’s Waldo. “I’m from Colorado, find Colorado” 35 heads bend down frantically searching.

I  ask for the states that have the lowest or highest points and the whole group huddles together around the map frantically searching. The best/most interesting part for me is them having to say the state name. Sometimes I say “how many points does Arizona have?” but other times I ask open ended questions “which states have the least?” which leads to them having to say state names.

It’s easy to forget these Spanish or Native words go against common English pronunciation rules. So here have been my favorites.

Uh- lack- suh (Alaska)

Floor-e-tah (Florida)

New Jahr-es-sea (New Jersey)

  • Mick-high-gan.
  • Mick-huh-gen
  • Mik-hi-jan?  Clever kids knew Gs can sometimes make the Juh sound.

North Cahr-o-lean-uh. North California (false sight word- starts with a C and ends with an A)

  • Pen-is-sel-van-e-a.
  • Pen-es-sylvania.
  • Penis-sill-vahn-nia. Oh dear.

And if it’s completely indistinguishable WYyyyyyyyy….. It’s probably Wyoming.

  • Wee-oh-minjjj
  • Whee-oh-mang
  • Mine. (Maine)
  • Mean-y
  • Mah-ee-ne.

O-eeyo (silent H ohio). They crack up when I say O-Hi-o because it sounds like “Hi” and thats funny for some reason.

  • Eeeeeee-no-zzu (sometimes they see Illinois as three upper-casein a row)
  • Eye-len-ohs

Delaware, Vermont, Dakota, Colorado, Texas are all fine.

One kid, bless his heart, had the map upside down. I was asking for Florida’s “points” and he was looking at the entire hook that is New England as all of Florida.

A picture of Florida – “what is this state?” “Gun.” No Jinsoo, it’s not Gun State.

Student Questions

After it’s all said and done I open it up for questions. Some stumped me. Take a minute and think if you could answer them without googling it.

They’re fascinated by Clinton being married to ex-president Clinton so we often go down a rabbit hole of spouses.

Who is Trump’s wife?  Melania.

Who is Johnson’s wife? Kate Prusack. I guess they actually aren’t married yet.

Who is Stein’s husband? Richard Rohrer – a doctor, I guess.

How old is Trumps daughter? Has two, 34 and 23

Does he like his daughter? Um. Yes? (I don’t know how to answer this).

Is his daughter a new mother? Ivanka has 3 children, one was born this year, so yes?

How old is Trump? 70

How old is everyone else? Clinton 69 / Johnson 63 / Stein 66

How old are all the spouses? Trump’s wife 46 the rest I don’t care about

Why didn’t the two other parties debate? This is a fantastic questions because I never brought up the debates so she must have known a lot from home/the news.  They didn’t have the percent needed to vote.

Who are you voting for? They can ask me that. I answer them honestly – Gary Johnson. We told them he won’t win but that that was okay.

What happens if they don’t get 270 points? 

Do you actually know the answer to this? I didn’t initially.  We don’t cover this stuff in school because it was never really pressing. I had heard a rumor online about the Supreme Court- people were outraged because “un-elected so called justices would make the wrong decision.”

But this is not true. If a candidate doesn’t get 270 points because of 3rd parties or if there is a tie what happens?

The vote goes to the House of Representatives – they choose from the top 3 people who got the most votes.

The House currently has 435 people with a republican majority. BUT they don’t get 435 votes. They each get 1 vote per state. So Texas’s 36 folks would have to debate over where their 1 vote goes, as would California’s 53 people, Florida’s 27 people, etc. Wyoming, Alaska, South/North Dakota, etc would have 1 person casting 1 vote.

So it would take a while for large states with multiple representatives to debate and compromise. They may not feel obligated (and they’re not required) to vote for their state’s majority/popular vote.

IT GETS BETTER. If there is a tie then the Senate gets to independently pick the vice president from the 2 who had the most votes. Yeesh. So we could have a mix of parties.

IT GETS EVEN BETTER. The House of Representatives gets 50 votes so we could still have a tie with 25/25. And how many people in the senate? That’s right, 100. So another tie.

IF no one can choose a president by around March we would have the Speaker of the House act as our president until we could get our stuff together.

IF the senate can pick the vice president before the house can pick the president then the vice president becomes acting president until they can make a choice.

What do I tell the kids – they don’t know about the systems they only know Korea has a parliament. So I basically say that the “parliament” would decide and tell them the parliament is mostly red. Generalizations.

What happens if the state is exactly 50/50?

Oohhh boy. If the exact number of people voted for Trump/Clinton in, say, Colorado. Who gets the 9 electoral college “points?” – an excellent question.

We probably wouldn’t know about the tie initially because every vote counts and they don’t stop counting the votes until mid-December. There would also most certainly be a recount or two to double triple check that that literally just happened.

This has never happened and it’s up to each individual state what they want to do. That’s what the government says but they have a big fat if. IF the state has rules in place IF they have a plan for it then they will follow that plan. If. I’m willing to guess many states don’t have a plan.

Federal law would let that state vote again but with a smaller ballot A or B. Not ABCDEFGHIJKLMNO or P with an option to write your own name in at the bottom.

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