Daily Video

August 14, 2020

Explainer: How election officials and the postal service handle ballots


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript, click here

Summary: The pandemic is pushing more voters to cast ballots by mail, including an increase in mail-in voting in primary contests this spring and summer and expected increase in mail-in voting in the national elections this fall. While most evidence shows that voting fraud is extremely rare, President Donald Trump has been claiming the opposite. Now he’s criticizing the idea of more funding for the U.S. Postal Service, which congressional Democrats say is needed to support the expected increase in mail-in voting.

  • Rules for vote by mail vary from state to state. States have broad authority over how their elections are run, and who is eligible for mail-in voting. Five states conduct elections almost entirely through mail-in ballots, with a couple of additional states adopting near universal vote-by-mail this year. These states generally send ballots to all registered and eligible voters.
  • In most states, voters are required to request ballots by filling out a form and providing a signature. Ballots can then be returned by mail or dropped off at secure voting locations.
  • President Donald Trump has recently claimed that if Congress does not provide USPS with more funds, states will be discouraged from expanding vote by mail.
  • Critics are concerned that changes at the USPS will hinder mail-in voting. For instance, the USPS has recently informed the state of Pennsylvania that the USPS might not have the capacity to process mailed ballots sent just before election day based on the state’s election plans. There are reports that other states such as Michigan and Nevada are also being told by USPS that vote by mail plans are at risk.

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: What do you think national and state governments—as well as the post office—should be doing to make sure elections are fair and secure?
  2. Why do you think each state is left to establish its own voting rules and procedures? What would be the disadvantages of having the rules set at a federal level?
  3. What do you think might be some safeguards that would make vote by mail safer, more secure and help make voters confident that elections are fair?
  4. Aside from vote by mail, what other ways could states make voting safer during a pandemic?
  5. Media literacy: Do you know the rules for vote by mail in your state? Where you would go to find out?

Extension activity:

Want to dig deeper into how voting by mail works? Use this resource from iCivics to learn more about voting by mail and take a quiz. Note: You’ll need to register for a free iCivics account in order to access the lesson plan. In this lesson, students will learn:

  • Understand the process of voting by mail.
  • Discover and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of all-mail elections.



Follow us:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PBSNewsHourExtra/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NewsHourExtra

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/newshourextra/


PBS NewsHour education stories newsletter

Updates for EXTRA’s Super Civics 2020 election teaching resources doc


  • Tags:

  • Related Stories

    Tooltip of related stories

    More Videos

    Tooltip of more video block

    Submit Your Student Voice

    NewsHour Extra will not use contact information for any purpose other than our own records. We do not share information with any other organization.

    More Videos