I created a game for my math classes that centers on the Presidential election.
Give each pair of students a blank political map of the U.S. Then take turns to initial a state, one after the other, until all 50 states have been initialed or marked up by the duo’s own system. That is, each student chooses 25 states, representing the states “won” by each candidate. Each pair then gets a map of the electoral votes by state. Calculate the sum of their votes, and determined who wins the highest office in the land. Some poor kid will give up California, Florida, Texas, and New York right away. That same kid probably gets beat in Connect 4 with an opponent’s first four chips too.
Five eighths of the fun occurs because most students can’t identify all the states and they definitely aren’t keen to how many electoral votes each state has. Knowing state locations and their ballpark populations is a huge advantage here. The big take away is that a candidate may win the popular vote and not the election.
From start to finish, the entire game probably takes 15 minutes. It doesn’t fit my standards for today or tomorrow, nor did it when I had my students play. But it does fit my goal of having students look at the numbers behind a real-life event. I also hope it ramps up their civic interest.
This weekend I saw Ron Larson present at the California Mathematics Council South annual convention in Palm Springs. He previewed his new book, Math & You. In it he has an extension devoted to Math & the Electoral College which is is online simulator that one can play with to show how winning the popular vote doesn’t always win the candidate the election.