Teaching Your Child About the U.S. Presidential Election Process

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In case you could not tell from your Facebook feed or the number of political ads running on television – it is an election year! Presidential elections sure do drum up a lot of feelings, opinions, and questions! Since my children are getting older, I thought it was the perfect time to introduce them to the election process.

the presidential election

An election to determine the President of the United States of America happens every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The next Presidential Election in the U.S. will be November 3, 2020.

A President is elected for a term of four years. The Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States effectively limits the number of terms a president may serve to two (eight years).

who can run for president?

There are certain qualifications to be eligible for candidacy for President.

To be considered for the presidency in the United States, one must:

  • Be a natural born citizen of the United States
  • Be at least 35 years old
  • Have been a resident of the United States for 14 years

overview of the presidential election process

According to USA.gov:

“The election process begins with primary elections and caucuses. These are two methods that states use to select a potential presidential nominee. In general, primaries use secret ballots for voting. Caucuses are local gatherings of voters who vote at the end of the meeting for a particular candidate. Then it moves to nominating conventions, during which political parties each select a nominee to unite behind. During a political party convention, each presidential nominee also announces a vice presidential running mate. The candidates then campaign across the country to explain their views and plans to voters. They may also participate in debates with candidates from other parties.

During the general election, Americans go to their polling place to cast their vote for president. But the tally of those votes—the popular vote—does not determine the winner. Instead, presidential elections use the Electoral College. To win the election, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes. In the event no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives chooses the president and the Senate chooses the vice president.”

fun facts about election day

  • The weather and farming dictated when elections were held.

In the 1800s, the agrarian economy was an important factor, and farmers weren’t able to travel easily until the harvest was over. Also, the onset of winter conditions in areas that had winter conditions made travel a problem, so elections happened in the late fall.

  • Election voting machines are a 20th Century innovation.

The mechanical lever voting machine was patented in 1889 but it took decades for the machines to become commonplace. Jacob H. Myers built the first lever machine used in an election, back in 1892. Meyers said the devices were needed to prevent “rascaldom.”

  • The mechanical voting machine is extinct.

The classic mechanical lever voting machine was phased out by 2010 in the United States. Most votes are now conducted using electronic digital voting machines or by using paper ballots that are sometimes optically scanned.

  • The 19th Amendment was adopted in 1920, giving women the right to vote.

Since 1964, more women voters have gone to the polls than male voters during presidential election years.

  • Gerald Ford is the only person who served as president and vice president without having been elected to either office.

Ford took the oath of office on August 9, 1974, after Richard Nixon’s resignation amid the Watergate scandal. Ford became the first, and so far the only, person to become President without winning a general election for President or Vice President.

10 resources for teaching children about the election process

  • The National Constitution Center is rich with innovative teaching tools for your classroom. The center provides free, nonpartisan, trusted resources for remote learning on a variety of areas in civic education.
  • View The Election Collection from PBS Learning Media. Enjoy the interactive Electoral Decoder, review the history and process of presidential elections, and more.
  • Visit Ducksters Education Site to learn more about how voting works, who can vote, and why voting is important. You can also take an interactive quiz and view photos of the original automatic voting machine.
  • Dig deeper into the Electoral College. Learn about presidential primaries and caucuses at USA.gov.
  • Create an online account and utilize some of the free and affordable live online classes offered through Varsity Tutors.
  • Allow children the opportunity to explore current election news on an age-appropriate, child-friendly website like the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.
  • Explore Ben’s Guide to the U.S. Government. Designed for specific age and grade groups, The Learning Adventures provide opportunities to retain information about important themes related to our Government.
  • Review a comprehensive collection of presidential documents from The American Presidency Project, including public papers of the presidents since 1929, White House press briefing transcripts, presidential debate transcripts, and more.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica’s website, ProCon.org, has a section dedicated to the 2020 Presidential Election. Students can learn about each candidate’s stance by selecting an issue and reading the candidate’s statements. They can also take a presidential matching quiz and view a side by side candidate comparison.
  • Elections for Kids by educational publisher, Gallopade International, provides election information, fun facts, and downloadable printable material for educators, including mock ballots.

OTHER election day activities

BOOKS ABOUT elections and the u.s. government

videos about the election process


Sesame Street: Election Day

How to Become President of the United States

Margaret Mead famously said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Never is this lesson clearer to me than in emotionally charged issues such as politics. Despite our personal feelings about the candidates, knowing the history and process of presidential elections in the United States is a valuable resource for our children to promote responsible, informed citizens. It may seem cliché, but children REALLY ARE our future! By encouraging our children to take an active interest in their community as well as helping them develop their knowledge, skills, and values, we set them up with all of the necessary resources to be the leaders of tomorrow.

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