Electing the National Dougnut

By Kristin Sanderson

This November and on the heels of the U.S. Presidential election, fifth and sixth grade students at The Miquon School entered their own contest to determine a campus favorite. Electing the national doughnut simulated the presidential race, complete with campaigning, voting, ballot collecting, and calculating the electoral vote as well as the popular one.

From medical school to flight school, simulation is an educational technique used in a variety of settings. It presents students with an opportunity to try out the real thing so they can see it, touch it, become involved with it, and ultimately, better understand it. In the case of the national doughnut, the election simulation presented a neutral canvas for children to learn how our country elects its president, without any of the politics attached to the process.

“This year, with the strong feelings, incivility, and high tension around the 2016 race, it gave our children a chance to step away from what they were seeing on the news and engage with an election that was going to be pleasing no matter who won,” said teacher Lynn Hughes of Quakertown.

The children began in small groups discussing the concept of voting, and learning key vocabulary: options, Electoral College, popular vote, majority, plurality, rough count, and others. Students shared some of their own experiences voting or voicing their opinions in everyday life.

Ballot preparation provided a rich hands-on mathematics experience involving probability and the statistical aspects of preference. The children got acquainted with six different voting methods used worldwide — approval voting, cumulative voting, Borda count, single transferable vote, Condorcet method (or “paired” voting), and simple one-choice vote — understanding that the process can actually affect the results. They were then tasked with designing ballots and determining vote-counting procedures for each.

Campaign committees presented posters, songs, rhymes, fictional celebrity endorsements, and parodies of the recent Presidential race. Several students observed that the campaign speeches led them to change their preferences.

“It was agreed that they would only talk about what was good about their own candidate — nothing negative could be said about their opponents,” said Hughes. “We had eight hilarious presentations.”

After holding an in-classroom primary to determine that French apple, raised sugar, and coconut custard would be the finalist candidates, the students conducted a campus-wide election. Every Miquon student would be able to sample the winning doughnut at the end of the process.

An Electoral College was created based on the enrollments of each Miquon classroom, and amid a great deal of excitement, students tabulated votes on November 22. Using Google Sheets to keep track of the popular and electoral votes as they were reported, students found the popular vote and the electoral vote were very close in favor of French apple and raised sugar.

Things came to a halt with two of the electoral districts ending in a tie. The simulated process suddenly became very much like the real election — children grappled first-hand with many of the same issues raised on a national scale this fall: They felt the struggle to express their opinions, they worried if they wasted their vote, they questioned the system.

“Why do people still look at the popular vote if they only count the electoral vote?” asked fifth grader Maia Kafer (Mt. Airy).

“I think we should have treated each classroom like a state where they do their own tie-breaker,” suggested Ma’at Smith (Germantown).

In lieu of a runoff election, a coin toss ended the tie, and raised sugar got the electors.

One disgruntled student was heard to mutter facetiously, “Not MY doughnut!”

“The moment was both thrilling, and instructive,” shared Susannah Wolf, Principal (Ambler). “There was such excitement in the room as the votes came in, classroom by classroom, with each student cheering the success of his or her candidate along the way. Truth be told, there were some crushing blows as well.”

Some speculated about the viewpoints of the voters, and why others made their choices. “I think they were swayed by the word ‘sugar,’” one said. “That’s a pretty persuasive word.”

“It was a broad educational experience — a blend of the real process, a mathematical exploration of worldwide voting methods, and a chance to review and ask questions about the way we elect our President. In the end, we happily devoured the winner,” joked Hughes.