Lesson 1: Election Law and Mail-In Voting
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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. 

Review Key Terms

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

Quick Write

What is in the news that catches your attention? What do you care about? What
makes you angry? Sad? Happy? Frustrated? What do you support? What are you against? What needs to change?

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. This is known nationally as a “no-excuse mail in ballot” and many states permit them. Prior to Act 77, PA voters had to provide an excuse, such as illness or being away from home to request an absentee ballot. (Both mail-in and absentee ballots are still available, but they are effectively the same. Generally, voters living at home should request the mail-in ballot option).
  • Another option, the provisional ballot, should only be used as a last resort. You can request a provisional ballot at your polling place on Election Day if you believe you’re eligible to vote, but there is a problem with your mail-in ballot, you lost it, it was damaged, or you’re not in the poll book as a registered voter at your polling place. Provisional ballots are often not counted unless a race is very close. Then the Board of Elections will then investigate to see if your provisional ballot can be counted.

Reading Activity & Debate 

In 2020, there was a public disagreement between groups claiming
rampant vote-by-mail fraud and favoritism toward one party, and groups claiming voting by mail is safe and nonpartisan. Assign students selected readings to explore these controversies (asynchronous). Then have students debate the various positions on these issues (synchronous). A sampling of readings is included below, and current readings can be added by teacher and

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?