Lesson Plan: Election Night 2020: What to Expect

Benjamin Hovland on Election Results

Benjamin Hovland, Chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission talked about the process for counting and certifying votes.


With the coronavirus pandemic and the increase in early voting and voting by mail, many experts are predicting that election night might look different than previous years. This lesson has students hear from experts and election officials discussing how states process ballots and what people should expect on election night. It explores issues such as mail-in and early voting, state laws relating to the counting of votes and election night reporting. Using this information, students will develop a list of reminders, suggestions and advice to use as they watch election night coverage.



    Before beginning class, have the students provide working definitions for each of the following terms. These terms will be used throughout the lesson. Students can research each of these or provide their own definition.

    • Absentee Ballot

    • Certify

    • Early Voting

    • Landslide

    • Mail-In Ballot

    • Swing State

    • Turnout

    After students are familiar with vocabulary used through the lesson, have them view the following introductory video clip. Students will answer the questions listed below.

    VIDEO CLIP 1: Benjamin Hovland on Reporting Election Results (1:12)

    • What does Mr. Hovland mean when he says, “election night results are always unofficial”?

    • What actions do state election officials take starting on election day?

    Review the responses with the students and address any misconceptions.

    Using the handout linked below, have the students view the video clips of the experts and officials discussing election night and the counting of votes. They can either use the guiding questions associated with each clip or complete the chart on the handout. From the video clips, students should provide information on the following:

    HANDOUT: Election Night 2020: What to Expect (Google Doc)

    • Differences in how states process and count votes

    • Factors impacting when states report election results

    • What specific states and issues should people pay attention to on election night?

    VIDEO CLIP 2: West Virginia Secretary of State Warner on Processing Absentee Ballots (2:51)

    • How might an increase in absentee and mail-ballots impact a state’s ability to report election results?

    • What issues did New York state have with their primary elections in June? What caused these issues?

    • How does West Virginia process and count absentee ballots?

    • How does the process that West Virginia uses differ from other states?
  • VIDEO CLIP 3: The Processing of Absentee Ballots (1:12)

    • What are the three categories of when states pre-process mail and absentee ballots?

    • How can the timeline of states processing mail-in and absentee ballots impact when election results are finalized?
  • VIDEO CLIP 4: What to Expect on Election Night (3:18)

    • How might a close election in key states impact when a winner is declared?

    • According to Mr. Fortier, why is Pennsylvania a state to watch?

    • How do states differ in when and how they count votes?

    • What factors might delay when a winner is declared?
  • VIDEO CLIP 5: Leah Askarinam on Election Night Reporting (1:12)

    • According to Leah Askarinam, which method of voting do Republicans generally prefer this election year?

    • How might differences in the political parties’ method of voting impact the reporting of election results on election night?

    • What scenarios might allow for a winner being declared on election night?

    Based on the video clips and their notes from the chart, students will apply what they learned by developing a list of at least five reminders, suggestions, or pieces of advice to help people trying to understand election night coverage.

    Students can use the handout to organize their responses.

    HANDOUT: Election Night 2020: What to Expect (Google Doc)


    As a class, share the students’ responses and make a class list of suggestions and pieces of advice to help understand election night coverage.

    On election night, students should use this information to view the election night coverage on C-SPAN or one of the other networks. Students can use the handout to take notes on what is being reported and how the results are being covered.

    HANDOUT: 2020 Election Night: Note-Taking Chart (Google Doc)

    Students should take notes on the following:

    • When and How Candidates are Projected to be the Winners of Different States

    • Different State Rules for Voting and the Counting of Votes

    • Impact of Mail-In and Absentee Ballots on the Election

    • Speeches or Statements given by the Campaigns

    • Anything that Surprised or Confused You
  • WRAP-UP:

    After viewing coverage of election night, have the students reflect on their list of reminders, suggestions and advice. Based on what they viewed, students should answer the following question.

    • How helpful were your reminders, suggestions, or pieces of advice in understanding the coverage of the presidential election? Support your response with details from election night.

    Make a Prediction- Before election night, use what you know about voting and counting ballots to make a prediction about what might occur on or after election night. After election night evaluate your prediction and explain why you think it was or was not correct.

    Researching your State- Using the chart on the National Conference for State Legislature website research the rules for how and when your state can process and count ballots. Summarize these rules and explain how effective you think this is and how it might impact your state’s election night reporting.

    Redesign the Election System- With what you now know, how would you redesign an election system that meets the current needs of the United States. Develop and explain your system by addressing the following:

    • Methods of voting

    • The timeline for processing and counting votes

    • An explanation of why this system would be most effective.

    • Based on what you learned from the video clips, how is the process of running elections as example of federalism?

    • Why do you think states were given the power to set the “times, places and manner for holding elections” in the U.S. Constitution?

    • How effective do you think the current methods of voting are during the coronavirus pandemic? Explain your answer.

Additional Resources


  • Absentee
  • Absentee Ballot
  • Absentee Voting
  • Certification
  • Early Voting
  • Election Night
  • General Election
  • Landslide
  • Mail-in Ballot
  • Margin
  • Media
  • Polls
  • Primary Election
  • State Legislature
  • Swing State
  • Vote By Mail
  • Voter Turnout
  • Voting Precinct


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