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Lesson 1: Election Law and Mail-In Voting

Students learn about state election laws and the debate around mail ballots. (45 minutes)


We have two mail options for voting in Pennsylvania: Vote in person (at your polling place) or vote with a mail-in ballot. Create a T-chart with these two options and ask students to post reasons for choosing each one. Then ask students to write in their notebooks which they would choose if they had the option and give a few reasons why. 

Key Terms

Ward, precinct, division, polling place, absentee ballot, mail-in ballot, poll worker,
voting machine, provisional ballot

Whole Class Instruction

Each state makes its own election laws, so every state is different. [Refer to the Election Clause of the US Constitution in the prior timeline activity]. Pennsylvania divides voting areas up into wards and precincts/divisions.

  • Each precinct/division is just a few blocks and has a polling place where those 500 or so neighbors can cast their ballot each Election Day in the spring and fall. Each polling place is staffed with local citizen poll workers and has electronic voting machines used to collect votes. Students that are US citizens, 17 or older can apply for paid positions to be poll workers on Election Day!
  • In 2019 the Governor of Pennsylvania signed Act 77 into law, allowing voters to request a mail-in ballot for any reason. 

Reading Activity & Debate: Before the 2020 and 2022 elections, some groups claimed rampant vote-by-mail fraud and favoritism toward one party, while other groups claimed voting by mail is safe and nonpartisan. Assign students selected readings to explore these controversies.

Then have a class discussion about what they read.  A sampling of readings is included below, and current readings can be added by teacher and students. The goal of the discussion should be helping students analyze partisan versus non-partisan sources of information.

Trump doubles down on mail-in voting concerns, warns of 'greatest election disaster in
- USA Today
Facts About Voting By Mail, Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub, Federal Election
Commission (FEC)
A Sampling of Recent Election Fraud Cases from Across the United States - The Heritage
The False Narrative of Vote-By-Mail Fraud - Brennan Center for Justice
Conservatives need to get behind vote-by-mail options in 2020 election - The Washington

Media Analysis: Use the Media Bias Chart to help students understand the context and bias of news sources. How does the bias of the news source correspond to their positions on these issues? What sources and statements are credible and which are not? How can you tell?