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Roads to Election 2020: What, why and how Americans are voting this election

It has been an unusual election season.

With record early and absentee voting, Americans across the nation are gearing up for an election during a deadly pandemic, a historic reckoning over racial justice and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

PBS NewsHour Weekend criss-crossed the country including key battleground states to speak to voters about issues they most care about and how they plan to vote.

We also spoke with reporters at our partner public media stations across the nation to get a local perspective on which way the political wind was blowing this election season.

With eight weeks before the election, we kicked off our “Roads to Election 2020” series in the swing state of Pennsylvania, which flipped Republican in 2016.

Christopher Booker and Mori Rothman report on how the pandemic and its economic fallout can be the tipping point that decides how PA will vote this election.

Pennsylvania is also the home state for former Vice President Joe Biden, who has touted his Scranton roots to connect with voters.

WHYY reporter Katie Meyer joined to discuss how the changing demographic and economic landscape of the state could have an impact on November 3.

After COVID-19 hit, several cities slashed their budgets and even furloughed workers. Hari Sreenivasan, Sam Weber and Connie Kargbo traveled to Ohio for a two-part series on how cities were grappling with the crisis.

First stop was the city of Dayton, which had seen its best month since the 2008 recession in January, before the pandemic plunged the city into an uncertain financial future — again.

The team also stopped by the central Ohio city of Lancaster, where the onslaught of COVID-19 stretched the city’s already thin public safety resources, forcing it to put an unpopular but necessary initiative on the ballot this November — a local tax increase.

In addition to the presidential contest, Ohio voters will also cast their ballot for 16 Congressional seats. There hasn’t been a competitive race for the last two elections, in part because of how district maps are drawn.

Karen Kasler, Ohio Statehouse Bureau Chief for Ohio Public Radio and Television, joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.


Iowa, a purple state, which leans blue, voted for President Trump with a huge margin in 2016.

Iowa PBS Senior Producer and Director Andrew Batt joined Hari Sreenivasan from Des Moines to discuss how Joe Biden has narrowed the lead, making it a toss-up.

Maine is the only state, apart from Nebraska, that divides its four electoral votes. In 2016, President Trump lost the state but won one of the state’s two congressional districts, earning one electoral college vote.

Hari Sreenivasan spoke to Maine Public Radio’s Chief Political Correspondent Steven Mistler to discuss the two campaigns, polls, and how Maine’s ranked-choice voting results could impact the overall election.

With no deal in sight for another economic relief package, small businesses in Maine, which rely on a tourist-filled summer, have been shuttering since the pandemic began.

Christopher Booker and Mori Rothman report on how they are bracing for a bleak winter.

This November, Californians will vote for what could set a precedent for the future of gig work for rideshare and delivery companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. While a new state law classifies these gig workers as ‘employees,’ these companies want to categorize them as ‘independent contractors.’

Laura Fong reports on the $181 million ballot initiative — the most expensive in the state’s history — and what the drivers want.

Illinois is seeing several competing political ideologies from both sides of the political divide in the presidential, Senate and other local races. While urban voters, especially in Chicago, strongly back Joe Biden, Trump enjoys support among the rural voters.

WTTW News Director Hugo Balta explains the state’s political landscape.

For the last 30 years, Democrat Collin Peterson has represented Minnesota’s rural and conservative 7th Congressional District, holding on to his seat even when the district voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016. This election, the Republicans have fielded Michelle Fischbach, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, in a bid to flip the district red.

Special Correspondent Kaomi Goetz who is also a reporter at One Greater Minnesota and Twin Cities PBS reports on how the two campaigns are battling it out.

In the deep red state of Louisiana, the state Democratic party has elected a new leader in hope of winning back voters who left as the party struggled with its identity there.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s Natasha Williams talked to the new party chair and the Louisiana Senate Minority Leader about their plans to redefine who they are and what they stand for.

President Trump won Georgia by nearly five points in 2016, but this time, polls show the state in dead heat, with both candidates battling it out for the Black vote.

Senior Correspondent for Georgia Public Broadcasting, Rickey Bevington joins to discuss the two campaigns and how local officials have recruited thousands of tech savvy poll workers and launched a new service to track the state’s absentee ballots.

And as the ongoing pandemic has made the issue of healthcare even more important, state officials are trying to change the way Georgians access healthcare under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

Christopher Booker, Sam Weber and Connie Kargbo look at how the issue is playing out in Georgia, a state with one of the highest rates of uninsured people.

The Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa has become a key swing district for down-ballot races in Wisconsin. While Democrats are aiming to hold on to their 2018 victory, Republicans are appealing to suburban voters’ concerns about public safety in the wake of the unrest that followed the Kenosha shooting.

PBS Wisconsin’s Zac Schultz reports.


COVID-19 loomed large this election season. As Wisconsin battled the pandemic, the two political parties appealed to voters, who hold much sway in deciding who the next president will be, in starkly different ways: Democrats took their convention, originally slated to be held in Milwaukee, online, while President Trump and Vice President Pence held in-person rallies. Zac Schultz brings us the tale of two campaigns.

Traditionally, Colorado voters have been nearly equally divided between Democrats, Republicans and independent voters. Over the last four years, the share of independent voters has shot up, making them the state’s largest block.

John Ferrugia, Rocky Mountain PBS Anchor and Managing Editor, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how the state votes and the much-talked about Senatorial race between two Republican leaders.

This November, Missouri has added an option to reverse the “Clean Missouri” amendment, which in 2018 handed the redistricting task to a nonpartisan demographer.

Zachary Green reports on what’s at stake for Missouri this election.

Texas saw a huge surge in early voting, casting more  70% of all votes cast in 2016, weeks before Election Day. KERA reporter Bret Jaspers joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the tight races in this critical swing state. 

This was the first year in which New York held early voting in a presidential race. It began nearly ten days before Election Day and New Yorkers waited for hours in serpentine lines. Christopher Booker and Mori Rothman report from Barclays Center, a sporting venue, now a voting hub in Brooklyn, NY.

Finally, we return to the Pennsylvania, where we started our series and where the fatal police shooting of William Wallace Jr., a Black man has led to unrest. Christopher Booker and Mori Rothman report on the renewed effort to not let despair over this incident discourage people from voting.