As things begin to heat up on the Presidential election front, it’s only natural that children – young and old – will overhear something and begin asking questions. With the current tone and vitriol being dispensed in some debates and the media, it becomes increasingly difficult to explain to younger children how to make sense of the interactions and treatment of people. Older children may be wondering why the general public and mainstream media seem to be fixating on one candidate or another, while younger children may just be wondering what’s going on. In either case, we’ve got a few suggestions for how to teach your children about our electoral process.
What’s Going On?
This time of year, the words “election” and “nomination” get thrown around a lot, and that might have kids confused. After all, there have been a slew of primary elections already, which they could easily be confusing for Presidential elections.
Before their heads begin truly spinning, now is a great time to explain the first step of the election process – the nomination process.
Things to consider:
- The United States traditionally operates on a two party system, meaning that each of the two major political parties (Democrats and Republicans) select one person to represent them in the Presidential election.
- This person is selected through a lengthy nomination process that includes debates, town hall discussions, and – of course – the primary elections. That’s that we’re doing right now!
- The primary elections serve to whittle down the list of candidate for each party by allowing the general public to vote on who they would best like to represent their party, and allowing the candidates to see where they stand.
- As the primary results come in, candidates will typically begin dropping out of the race if they see that they aren’t gaining a lot of votes. Conversely, other candidates will begin getting larger donations to their campaigns, as the public sees that the front-runners have a real shot at becoming president.
What Happens Next?
Once the primary elections are completed, each party holds are large event (the national convention) where their candidate for president is formally announced. Prior to the primary season each state is assigned a number of delegates (usually based on the population of the state), and throughout the season the candidates collect their delegates based on how they place during the primary elections. During the national convention each state is called to announce who their delegates will be awarded to.
In the past this voting process has determined who would receive the party’s nomination, however since the 1980 election the nominee has been decided by acclamation – meaning that it is a unanimous decision due to candidates dropping out of the race in the run-up to the convention. An exception to this is the 2008 election, when Hillary Clinton received 1,000 delegates at the convention until she, personally, moved to nominate Barack Obama by acclamation.
Each party has different methods for assigning their delegates, which you can learn more about here.
How Do We Decide?
Once the parties have determined their nominees, those two candidates – as well as any third-party candidates – make their run for President. Although every person eligible to vote is encouraged to do so, the President is not determined by winning each individual vote (the “popular vote”) but rather by winning states, which vote through the Electoral College. This means that, essentially, the presidential election is a combination of two separate elections – an election on the state level for the popular vote, and then an election on the Federal level by the Electoral College. The Electoral College decides who to vote for based on who wins their state vote, although in some cases the voters will be “faithless voters” or “unpledged electors” and will cast their own independent vote. This is very rare, though.
Once all of the votes have been cast and the polls are closed, the popular vote is tallied up along with the Electoral College votes. Since the Electoral College votes are the official votes, it is possible that a candidate could win the popular vote but not win the election, if they win more Electoral Votes by winning states with a large Electoral College delegation. From there, the winner is declared and they take office about two months later, on January 20.
At Pay4SchoolStuff.com we’re all about making things easier for parents and educators! Check out us out at Pay4SchoolStuff.com and see how we can help streamline your day-to-day operations.