Election Lesson

By Sharla Orren
And the winner of the 2016 presidential election is … We’ll know soon!
It may be hard to believe but on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, a new president of the United States will be chosen. Your children may be asking questions about how the election process works. Or maybe you are wondering yourself exactly how it works or how to explain it! See how much you and your kids know:
What are the qualifications to run for president of the United States?
In order to run for president of the United States, the potential candidate must meet certain qualifications. These qualifications are:

  • Must be a natural-born citizen of the United States,
  • Must be at least thirty-five years old,
  • Must have been a resident of the United States for fourteen years.

What is a primary and what is a caucus?
Earlier this year, all of the candidates for president went through a series of state primaries and caucuses. In a state primary, participants (voters) vote by secret ballot for who they want to run for president. In a caucus, participants are divided into groups based on which candidate they support. Each group gives speeches trying to win voters to their side. At the end of the caucus, the organizers count the votes in each candidate’s group and determine the amount of delegates each candidate has won.
Primaries and caucuses can be open or closed. In an open primary or caucus, people can vote for a candidate of any political party, whether they are a registered member of that party or not, but in a closed primary or caucus, participants must be registered with a particular political party to vote for one of its candidates. Delegates are allotted for candidates based on the outcome of the primary or caucus.
How does a candidate win the nomination for a political party?
The candidates receive delegates in order to win the nomination for their particular party. The Democratic candidate must receive 2,383 of the estimated 4,765 state delegates to become that party’s nominee. The Republican candidate must receive 1,237 of the estimated 2,472 state delegates to become that party’s nominee.
What is a national convention?
Following the primaries and caucuses, each party has its own national convention. This convention officially nominates its party’s choice for president and vice president. Delegates from all fifty states, Washington, DC, and five US territories attend the conventions. Nominees, their families, important party leaders, and other special guests give speeches at the convention, which is televised across the nation.
What if no candidate gets a majority at the national convention?
If no candidate has received a majority of a party’s delegates, the convention then becomes a meeting for deciding that particular party’s presidential nominee.
What happens after a candidate wins the nomination?
Following the national convention, major campaigning begins. This is usually the point where candidates focus on campaigning against the candidates of the other party(s) rather than against the candidates from their own party.
Who is currently running for president?
Most people are aware of two candidates for president, Republican Donald Trump (with VP nominee Mike Pence) and Hillary Clinton (with VP nominee Tim Kaine). But did you know that in addition to these candidates, there are also “third party” candidates? A third party candidate is a candidate who is running for a party that is not one of the two main parties (Democrat or Republican). Some of the third party candidates running this year are: presidential nominee Gary Johnson and vice presidential nominee Bill Weld for the Libertarian Party; presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein and vice presidential nominee Ajamu Baraka for the Green Party; and presidential nominee Darrell Castle and vice presidential nominee Scott Bradley for the Constitution Party. There are other, less well-known parties as well.
Finally, Election Day arrives! Voters go to their specified polling places and cast ballots for who they wish to serve as the next president of the United States.
Can a nominee get the majority of the popular vote and still not win?
Yes. In the United States, we use the Electoral College to select the president. This means when you go to vote, you are actually voting for who you want to serve as the “electors” from your state (similar to a delegate). Each state gets a certain number of electors based on its representation in congress. This representation is based on the current census. Here is a chart showing how many votes each state currently gets. It is possible for a nominee to receive a majority of the popular vote and still lose the election based on the Electoral College vote. This has happened four times in our nation’s history: John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), and George W. Bush (2000).
Why do we have the Electoral College?
The Electoral College began because our Founding Fathers worried that states with greater populations would have an unfair advantage in electing the presidents. Also when our nation was founded, they were unsure if voters would be knowledgeable about the candidates running for president, and if they would be able to make a wise choice in deciding our nation’s leaders.
How does the Electoral College work?
There are 538 votes in the Electoral College. There are one hundred votes to represent each state’s senators—two for each state. The other 435 votes are equal to the members in the House of Representatives, including three votes for Washington DC. In most states, the candidate winning the popular vote for that state wins all of that state’s Electoral College votes. However, in Maine and Nebraska, the votes are split among congressional districts. To learn about how someone is chosen as an elector, check out this website. In order to become president, the nominee has to receive 270 Electoral College votes.
After the president is chosen, then what happens?
After the president is elected, then he or she is “inaugurated,” officially sworn into office. This election cycle, Inauguration Day is on Friday, January 20, 2017.
What are some ways my family can learn more about the election?
Just because your child is not old enough to vote does not mean he or she cannot join in on the election fun. There are several fun things you can do to learn more about the election process together.

  1. Hold a mock election with your family. Make posters for your campaign. Make commercials. Write a speech about what you would do as president. Have a mock debate with members of your family. Then vote for your favorite candidate.
  1. Stay aware of what the candidates are doing. Watch the presidential debates together (they are available on YouTube). Look for presidential commercials and newspaper ads. Discuss what you like and dislike about the ads. Talk about what persuades you to vote for or against the candidate in the ad. Discuss the issues that are important to your family and the candidates’ positions.
  1. Watch this free video with your kids! 
  1. Work for your favorite candidate. If you are interested in a particular party, see if you can work at its local campaign headquarters. Pass out information, buttons, signs, etc. You can help get your favorite candidate elected!
  1. Take your kids with you to vote.
  1. Have an election night party. Find fun foods to make and invite friends. Get this free Electoral College map poster here and color the states as the results come in.

Sharla Orren loves homeschooling her two boys at her cozy homestead by the woods. She has been married to her wonderful husband for fifteen years.

Leave a Comment