The Electoral College Explained

by Emily Speelman

The United States is in the last leg of the 2016 Presidential Election and, as November 8 approaches, “The Race to 270” is on. But what does this phrase mean? How does is apply to the everyday voter? And what role does geography play in this race?

“The Race to 270” refers to the number of votes a presidential candidate must win in the Electoral College to secure the presidency. There are a total of 538 members in the college and, to become president, candidates must earn 50% + 1 of their votes. Electors are appointed by their state and the number of electors is equal to their state’s number of representatives in Congress, giving each state a minimum of 3 (accounting for two senators and at least one representative in Congress per state).

Image from National Geographic: http://nationalgeographic.org/maps/electoral-college/

Image from National Geographic: http://nationalgeographic.org/maps/electoral-college/

Rather than voting directly for their desired candidates, citizens cast their ballot to the electors, telling them who to vote for. Based on this popular vote, the state’s electors put all their votes toward the majority candidate. Even if the candidate wins by only 51%, state’s “winner-take-all” policy dedicates that all the state’s electoral college votes can only go to the majority winner.

This applies to all states except Maine and Nebraska, who use Congressional Districts to determine electoral votes. Maine has four electoral votes and two congressional districts: the winner of each district gets at one vote and the statewide winner automatically gets two of the four. Nebraska, with its three electoral votes, has a similar system: the statewide winner gets two votes and the district winner gets the third. It is possible for the votes to split, which is important to note in a close election like this years.

While this sounds pretty straightforward, there are some problems with this system:

  1. Unequal voter power: As previously mentioned, a state’s number of electors is determined by its number of representatives in Congress. With each state getting a minimum of one, the number of house representatives are decided by a state’s total population. By giving each state three electoral votes (to account for the two senators), voting power is unequally distributed amongst the population, which can have a big impact on the election. Votes from states with lower populations (such as Vermont and Wyoming) have more power representation in the Electoral College than their population calls. They receive electoral votes that should belong to states with bigger populations, like California and Texas. Therefore, the individual votes of these smaller population states are giving more weight in determine who their state’s’ electoral votes go.
  2. Problems with a winner-take-all system: The winner-take-all system can greatly misrepresent the popular vote. With this system, the majority candidate in most states gets all of their electoral votes, no matter how much or little they won by. Therefore, the candidate needs to win states votes more than people’s votes.  This can make a massive difference when the nationwide popular vote is calculated, potentially swaying the election results. This occurred in 1876, 1888, and 2000, where the candidate won less than half of the popular vote, but won the election due to the Electoral College’s rules. To see this explained, CGP Grey made video exploring it here.
  3. Missing American Votes: There are a huge amount of American votes missing from each election. Why? This is because US territories are not allowed to vote in the election, with the exception of the District of Columbia (which was only granted in 1964). The territories of Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and US Virgin Islands are not granted Electoral College votes because they are not states. They are, however, US citizens and over 4 million people live here (which is more people than live in the city of Chicago!).

While the Electoral College has its problems, every vote counts in an election. The deadline to register online or by mail in Illinois is October 12 so make sure you are registered and make your voice heard on November 8.

 

Questions about how to vote in Illinois? Click here for a video explaining IL deadlines, absentee ballots, and more!

 

For more information on the Electoral College, see the videos and articles below:

A Breakdown of the Electoral College: http://nationalgeographic.org/maps/electoral-college/

How the Electoral College Works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUS9mM8Xbbw

The Trouble with the Electoral Collage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wC42HgLA4k

History of US Elections: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48EZKXweGDo

A COOL Summer

Hello Backyard Geographer readers! My name is Emily Speelman and I am the Social Media Intern for GSC for the 2016-2017 year. I’m excited to share what we’re doing at the Geographic Society with you. While I am new to this position, I’ve been working with the Geographic Society since June through a program called COOL Summer Learning Experience in Waukegan, IL.

COOL is a six-week program for kids ranging from 3rd to 8th grade that focuses on environmental science and teaching sustainable practices. The program’s goal is to enhance students’ skills in science and learn more about the environment around them. This summer’s theme was “Our Footprints on the Earth,” teaching students about their ecological footprint and how they can minimize their footprint through responsible utilization of resources such as soil, water, and air. There were usually 40-55 kids in attendance each day throughout the summer, split into three different classes (3/4, 5/6, 7/8).

My role at COOL was the GIS/GPS Intern. Two days a week, I helped plan and lead GPS-based activities. I worked closely with the teaching staff to show students how to use GPS units (Earthmate PN-40s), explain how GIS/GPS are used to study the environment, and execute GPS activities that expanded on their classroom material. After collecting data in the field, students brought it into ArcOnline to create maps showcasing their results. These maps were used not only for everyday classroom work, but also for their final program at the end of the summer.

We spent the summer studying a variety of topics and traveling throughout the surrounding area to study phenomena such as pollution, water quality, and neighborhood plant life. Some of my favorite projects we worked on were: collecting water samples at Bevier Park and Waukegan North Beach; walking around the neighborhood cleaning up and marking different types of litter; studying carbon footprints by country through ArcOnline; and visiting Illinois Beach State Park to collect soil samples. These projects connected information from the classroom into interactive, exciting projects to show students how ecological consciousness can be incorporated in their everyday activities. I loved spending one-on-one time with the students, getting to know them as they learned and grew this summer.

One of my key takeaway from this summer was how important GIS/GPS is for younger generations to learn. I was amazed at how enthusiastic and excited the students were about it: the students loved working in ArcOnline. They search through the maps, customizing them to properly show the data they collected. The students caught on quickly, often moving on to the next step of a project without needing guidance. The same goes for the GPS units. Since GSC has worked COOL for a few years, some third and fourth year students already had experience and were able to assist others when collecting data on site. They gladly accepted the work at hand and everyone got a chance to operate the units.

I had a great time working at COOL this summer. I was constantly amazed by the students’ ideas and willingness to work on class projects (even though it was their summer break!). Some of their final projects, data and maps created by students, can be seen below:

3rd/4th Final Project5th/6th Grade Final Project

Cool Summer Experience presents… The ECO-Times

Baseball & Skate ParkA few months ago we reported on the highly creative and advanced work of one of our youth programs called Cool Summer Experience (CSE) based in Waukegan. Well, they’re back with Issue 2 of the ECO-Times, a comprehensive wrap-up of everything they got into this past summer. Highlights include a tour around Lake Michigan on the W. G. Jackson aquatic research vessel, a trip to the Dokum Mskoda Nature Preserve to track down the elusive Eastern Prairie Fringe Orchid, and an encounter with enormous butterflies at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Read all about it… The ECO-Times, Summer 2013

Cool Summer Experience: GPS and GIS Integration

The following post was written by Matthew Kauth, a GIS analyst and instructor, who helps run one of our summer programs called Cool Summer Experience (CSE), sponsored by the First Baptist Church in Waukegan.  For two summers now, the Geographic Society of Chicago has trained CSE campers how to use GPS equipment and how to understand geospatial technology and data.  The following is what took place this summer.

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Working with the Cool Summer Experience program this summer was very insightful. The students were exposed to GPS and GIS technology. The results of the students’ enthusiasm was very positive and contradicted my initial belief that this technology was beyond the students.

Students and staff applied this technology to research projects that had a spatial aspect. The students were divided to three groups according to grade levels. Given these tools, students were able to analyze data they had been collecting with GPS units. The groups were able to identify patterns, and in two cases, prove and disprove their hypothesis. The third group constructed a temporal comparative research project.

The fourth and fifth grades analyzed pH levels from the Waukegan Harbor, in addition to two points approximately one mile off shore. The students hypothesized that the pH level would increase progressing away from the shore. After analyzing the data using GIS, the data revealed the exact opposite. The disproving of the hypothesis was very educational in that the students had found the pattern of their way points in addition to learning that formulating a hypothesis that is not correct, holds no negative connotations.

Grades 4-5: Lake Michigan pH Levels

Grades 4-5: Lake Michigan pH Levels

Grades 4-5: Lake Michigan pH Levels

Grades 4-5: Lake Michigan pH Levels

Grades six and seven identified Red Oaks and White oaks at three locations. The project was constructed to prove the hypothesis that Red Oaks would establish themselves closer to a water source than White Oaks. Upon completion of the project, the hypothesis was proven to be correct. Albeit, some locations yielded more telling results than others, the students identified the pattern.

Grades 6-7: Distribution of Red Oaks and White Oaks

Grades 6-7: Distribution of Red Oaks and White Oaks

Grades 6-7: Distribution of Red Oaks and White Oaks

Grades 6-7: Distribution of Red Oaks and White Oaks

Grades 6-7: Distribution of Red Oaks and White Oaks

Grades 6-7: Distribution of Red Oaks and White Oaks

Grade 8 was the only group to perform a temporal and comparative study. Complimented with both recent data and data that was more than a decade old, the group created a track of shoreline at a local beach. This project was able to compare on a micro level their collected data with that of data collected recently. In addition, the macro comparison was analyzed when all years of data were compared collectively.

Grade 8: Shoreline Study

Grade 8: Shoreline Study

Grade 8: Shoreline Study

Grade 8: Shoreline Study

Collectively, these students seemed to be very disinterested in the GPS units at the beginning. As time went on, though, the interest continually piqued as we discussed the importance of spatial data as it related to their respective research projects.

Ultimately, all grade levels were more intrigued as the combination of the GPS and GIS unfolded, and their efforts in field data collection was presented in a visual format. In addition, and most important was the ability for the students to observe patterns. The results of each project were discussed with the classes and a dialogue of spatial patterns, and their importance ensued.

Last, the students were exposed to the tools provided by Arcgis Online. The tools used were measuring distances, calculating areas of polygons, the students own cognitive thinking in using symbols and colors to represent their data.