Classroom Mock Elections:
Holding an election in class is one of the best ways to help students understand the elections. Before holding a mock election, the teacher should explain what is at stake with this election: the President's role as Commander in Chief and Head of State. In this exercise, we also suggest directly including a role for political parties, although introduced with an understanding that the current major parties are not established by law, but by how people choose to organize themselves politically.
1) Divide the class into three parties. They can be imaginary or based on current parties in the United States.
a) Instruct students to play their parts even if their assignment is not the party they would have chosen.
2) Have students research their assigned party.
b) Students will discuss what they learned with students in their same party, and students in other parties, as this will permit them to understand the differences between the two major parties and the implication of a partisan/bipartisan system and potential multipartisan system.
3) Have students choose a candidate through a primary.
a) Allow time for students to meet in their groups and to choose two or three candidates from each party to run in the primary election.
b) Each candidate will make a two-minute speech trying to obtain votes from his or her peers.
c) Hold a primary in each party consistent with the primary rules in that state for each respective party. Information on party primary rules can be found here.
4) Political Convention
a) Each party holds its own meeting.
b) The spokesperson for each party should call the roll of each student's name (explain that in the actual convention the roll is called by state, not each individual person).
c) Each person will chose from the three candidates. The top vote winner could be the candidate with the most votes, but if that candidate does not have a majority, there could be a second vote, either among the same candidates or among just the top two. Discuss the implications of different rules. Each top candidate will choose someone for the vice presidential spot on the ticket.
5) The General Election
a) The election can be held on the actual election day, if school is held that day.
b) Polling can also be part of the process.
i) The teacher can give an email address where every interested student can post his or her vote with commentaries or questions, to show the effects of polling in the political process.
c) Have students vote on a ballot identical to the official ballot, allowing them to become part of culture of voting as a habit.
d) Highlight the role of the Electoral College, and how it can create a different result from a popular vote. Discuss potential different ways of allocating electoral votes.
e) Discuss the implications of different ways of voting for two or three candidates. Students can compare a plurality vote rule (candidate with most votes wins), a runoff rule (a separate election between top two) and an instant runoff rule (voters indicate second choice to allow a runoff to be simulated between top two).
After the elections, students will write what they learned about elections, and what this experience taught them.
Holding an election in a classroom can be quite easy, and does not require too many materials. The teacher should attempt to generate interest from the students, and perhaps keep it informal, so as to not discourage a habit of voting. The subjects debated during the elections can be topics that touch to the students' lives, such as mandatory school uniforms or video game rating systems.
Holding a mock election can be a way to better understand the role of the elector in the democratic process, but mostly important, it is a way to better understand the role of the elected personalities. It can also be an introduction to the complexity of politics, in which they will understand that compromises must be made, and that the stakes are up against opposing forces that must be taken in consideration. It is also important to present it from a positive perspective, and to instill hope during the project; to show that politics can still be interesting and important to everyone. Teachers should also take note to not have such a program turn into a popularity contest among students, and focus the discussion and election around issues and political parties.
School-Wide Mock Presidential Election
Holding a school-wide election is a great way to cultivate a democratic community on campus. Students will be able to participate in a democratic process with students outside of their classrooms, just as citizens vote in conjunction with their fellow voters. The natural division of classrooms provides the perfect simulation of states, and is conducive to learning about the Electoral College's role in presidential elections.
In this activity, students will learn about official presidential candidates, engage in political discussion, cast a ballot, and be able to compare the effects of different electoral rules on the outcome of an election. By providing a ballot that contains sections for a plurality method of voting, and a ranked choice section, the ballots are able to be counted in five different ways-the different ways of allocating Electoral College votes, and two methods of calculating a national popular vote. You can see the descriptions of these counting methods on the Elections Instructions Template.
In addition to providing teachers with instructions, ballot templates, and a ballot envelope template, FairVote also wants to keep things simple for students- providing a candidate comparison chart template. This chart should be printed on the back side of each student's ballot, so they can make informed decisions when completing their ballot.
Comparing the effects of electoral rules on election outcomes is essential to the future of our democracy. These students will one day make decisions about our electoral processes, and should have exposure to different methods of vote allocation in order to make informed decisions. This activity lets students participate in something larger than the classroom, and lets them experience democracy as citizens, not just through a textbook.
Please check back soon for our resources for the 2012 Presidential election:
This mock election can be adapted for use at the county or state level, to give students exposure to active civic participation on a level representative of their future voting endeavors.