How many people do I vote for? – Part 2: Federal elected positions

Talk to youth about the voting process and discuss the roles of federally elected positions.

This is the second article in a series about the different folks you vote for on Election Day. It includes some basic information, some questions for discussion and things to consider. Take time to talk to the young people in your life (and adults too) about who you are voting for, why, and their opinions on the issue. Why is our government the way it is? What would happen if we changed things?

The federal system

Most folks remember something about the checks and balances in the United States federal government. Each of the three branches – executive, legislative and judicial – have checks on the others. Do these “checks and balances” exist for all branches of government? Are they the same? What role does the federal system have in your life? Can you look around and see how the federal government impacts what you do in positive or negative ways? What things are controlled by federal versus state versus local government? What level of government is the best way to make decisions? Are some decisions better handled at a different level?

President of the United States

The President of the United States is the one elected official that has the most name recognition. Why is that? Does the President have more influence on your day-to-day life than other elected officials? Does it matter that a president is elected by the Electoral College rather than a simple majority? How does it make you feel that a few “swing states” like Ohio and Florida usually sway the outcome of the election?

The U.S. President is elected to a four-year term with a maximum of two terms. Is four years enough time to make change in our country? Is it too much time? Should there be term limits?

United States Senators

United States Senators are elected statewide, two for each state, to six year terms. Because there are two per state, and populations in states vary widely, there is vast disparity in the number of people they represent. A California senator represents over 39 million people, and a Wyoming senator represents about half a million. Is this difference fair? Why do you think the two-house system is set up in the U.S. Constitution? Does a senator from a small state have more, less, or the same amount of power as one from a large state?

United States Congressional Representatives

United State Congressional Representative are elected based on districts to two-year terms. There is at least one representative for each state. California has 53 representatives, seven states have only one and Michigan has 14. Because of differences in state populations, a congressperson may represent anywhere from over one million to 520,000 people. That isn’t close to the senate disparity, but still fairly significant.

Is there any way around this? There are 435 members of U.S. Congress. That number has not changed since 1913, even though the population of the U.S. has tripled over that time. Should we have more members of congress since we have more population? How many people can one person reasonably represent in the federal government? Is the number of representatives too big or too small? Can a group be too big to get things done? Should there be term limits for representatives? Why or why not?

Hopefully these questions get you thinking about our government and generate some interesting ideas as you head to the polls. They might also encourage the young people in your life to make a difference in their community, country and world.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

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