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Every four years we elect our president. But is the winner determined more by the will of the people or the way we count votes?

In this lesson, students will explore the outcomes of the 2012 and 2000 elections. They’ll calculate how much of the electoral and popular vote each candidate received as a percent, and will reason about the possible impact of third party candidates. Finally, they’ll explore an election under possible alternative voting systems, and will see that how we vote is perhaps more important than whom we vote for.

Students will

  • Calculate the percentages of the electoral and popular vote won by each major candidate in 2012 and 2000
  • Investigate the “spoiler effect” Nader may or may not have had on the 2000 election
  • Tabulate votes under alternative voting systems
  • Discuss possible improvements to the current way we vote for our leaders

Before you begin

Students should know how to calculate percents, including the ability to convert between decimals and percents (for example, 0.511 = 51.1%). The second half of the lesson requires good reasoning skills more than anything else, as the calculations are fairly straightforward. Also, negative numbers make an appearance towards the end of the lesson, so experience with addition of integers will be helpful.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices


C. G. P. Grey, United States of America, Electoral College, Democratic Party, Republican Party