Lesson Plan: The History of Contested Presidential Elections

How does the Electoral College Work

American University History Professor Allan Lichtman explained how the Electoral College works, the history of how electors were chosen and how candidates campaign based on electoral votes.


This lesson looks at the contested presidential elections occurring in 1800, 1824, 1876 and 2000. Using C-SPAN video clips, students will identify how each election was resolved and the consequences of these elections. They will apply this knowledge by describing similarities and differences between these examples and determining what lessons can be learned from these elections.



    Introduce the process of electing a president by having students view the following video clip. Students should answer each of the questions as they view the video.

    Throughout this lesson, students can use either a Google Doc handout or Google Slide presentation to access the video clips and activities.

  • Video Clip 1: How does the Electoral College Work (3:18)

    • What determines how many electors each state gets?

    • How do most states determine which candidate gets their electoral votes?

    • Why do candidates focus on large states and competitive states when campaigning?

    • How were most electors selected in the early days of the United States? How has that changed?

    • Describe the process for electors voting for president.

    Address any misconceptions about the electoral college and how the president is elected. As a brainstorm activity, have the students answer the following question:

    • What are possible problems with the process for electing a president?

    Using the information form the introduction, students will view each of the following video clips about contested elections. Students can use the interactive Google Slides presentation or the handout to take notes on each of these examples.

    Students should provide information on the following topics for each election:

    • Candidates Running for President

    • Unique Circumstances Occurring in this Election

    • How was this Election Resolved

    • Significance and Consequences of this Election

  • Election of 1800

  • Election of 1824

  • Election of 2000


    Using the handout or the slides, have the student identify what these examples have in common and what is different about these examples.

  • WRAP-UP:

    Using the information from the previous activities, have students answer the following question either in a discussion or with a written response.

    • What lessons can be learned from these historic examples? Provide support for your points.

    Evaluating Contested Elections- Choose one of the contested elections discussed in the lesson. Using information from the videos and outside research, evaluate if this election was correctly decided.

    Redesigning the Presidential Election Process- Based on what you learned about the presidential election process and contested elections, redesign the process in which the president is elected. Include the following information in your redesign:

    • Who votes and how votes are counted?

    • How many votes does it take to win?

    • What is the process for tied or disputed elections?

    • How did the resolution of the contested 2000 election compare to previous ones?

    • How has the process for electing a president changed since the election of 1800?

    • How is the current election process for electing a president and resolving contested elections an example of federalism and checks and balances?

Additional Resources


  • Aaron Burr
  • Al Gore
  • Bush V. Gore
  • Certification
  • Compromise Of 1877
  • Concede
  • Congressional Delegation
  • Corrupt Bargain
  • Election Of 1800
  • Election Of 1876
  • Electoral College
  • George W. Bush
  • Henry Clay
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Party Ticket
  • Popular Vote
  • Reconstruction
  • Recount
  • Rutherford B. Hayes
  • Samuel Tilden
  • Slate Of Electors
  • Supreme Court
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Twelfth Amendment
  • Winner-take-all


Campaigns & ElectionsExecutive BranchU.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh School