Help for Understanding the Election Process and Electoral College

The Republican National Convention met in Tampa, Florida last week, and the Democratic National Convention will convene in Charlotte, North Carolina this week. Election season is in full swing, but do your kids understand the election process? Do you?

America has a fairly unique process for electing her presidents. Campaigns, primaries, caucuses, party conventions and debates can create a confusing picture. Several years ago I discovered Woodrow for President: A Tail of Voting, Campaigns, and Elections by Peter and Cheryl Barnes. This book, told as the story of a young mouse who grows up to become president, does a terrific job of explaining the election process. In fact, it covers all aspects of a presidential election except for the Electoral College. I’ll cover that aspect of the presidential election in just a moment.


The full color, whimsical illustrations are very appealing. The clever, rhyming text makes this a suitable read aloud for even the youngest children, while still delivering plenty of information for your older, independent readers, too. The book is non-partisan, but does mention several of the most popular parties of the past and present. Adults may find that some of the fictional issues mentioned bear a very close resemblance to the actual issues we wrestle with today. The book ends with a note for parents and teachers concerning what the U.S. Constitution says about the election process, and emphasizing the importance of being active in your community and participating in the election process.

Woodrow for President: A Tail of Voting, Campaigns, and Elections is a valuable part of our Heritage Library.

The Electoral College is often a very confusing part of the presidential election process. Many adults don’t understand how it works, so it shouldn’t be surprising that so many of our children don’t have a clue about it. The Electoral College is a fabulous little book. In just forty-one pages, Michael Burgan gives us the history of the Electoral College system and gives us a clear picture of what it is and how it works. Beginning with the controversy surrounding the presidential election of 2000, the author explains what happened in Florida and why the man with the higher number of individual votes did not become president. There have been a couple of other controversial elections in America’s past, and I found the stories behind those elections fascinating.


The Electoral College has undergone some changes since it was originally put in place in 1787. Throughout its history, and continuing even today, many have questioned whether or not we should abolish the Electoral College and elect our President by the popular vote. Mr. Burgan does a fine job of showing the pros and cons of both positions, allowing the reader to come to his own, personal opinion on the matter.

The Electoral Collegewould be suitable for independent readers, about third grade and up, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put this book into the hands of a high school student, or even an adult, who does not understand how the electoral college works. The book is filled with many drawings, photographs and reprints of paintings to help tell its story, and it’s an enjoyable read.  The Electoral College, by Michael Burgan, has a permanent home on the Civics shelf in our home – Heritage Library.

One other book is worthy of mention. The Electoral College, by Christopher Henry also presents a clear picture of the electoral college system. This particular book, though more widely available than Burgan’s, is older, and published well before the highly controversial 2000 presidential election, making it slightly outdated. Though the information regarding the history and workings of the electoral college is presented accurately and thoroughly, the author allows his own bias against the electoral college to be known several times in the latter portion of the book. Running just under sixty pages in length, Henry’s book would be appropriate for independent readers of about fourth grade and up. There are plenty of photographs, illustrations and diagrams included for the reader’s information and pleasure, but the book reads a bit like a text book.



While I’m talking about the presidential election process, I don’t want to fail to mention that the authors of Woodrow for President have also written a great trio of books explaining the three branches of government. These are written in the same style and with the same lovely illustrations as Woodrow for President, but each title corresponds to each of the three branches of government.


I love all four of the Barnes’ “Mouse” books, and highly recommend Michael Burgan’s The Electoral College. However, if Burgan’s book isn’t available, or if it’s out of your price range, Christopher Henry’s The Electoral College is a good alternative. These books are a great way to learn about America’s presidential election process and about her three branches of government.


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