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Democracy

Rumors vs. reality: 6 facts about voting by mail for folks worried about election integrity

Worried about mail-in voting? Don't be.

voting elections mail-in ballots

Myths and facts about voting by mail.

As we head toward midterm elections in early November, there's a lot of misinformation floating around about how voting is conducted and how votes are processed. Sadly, we're reaping what widespread misinformation has sown in the form of continued election result denial, legislation that makes it harder to vote and even vigilante voter intimidation at ballot drop boxes.

Convincing someone their preferred candidate didn't win because the other side cheated is an easy political win, especially in a hyperpartisan atmosphere. But the reality is that the vast majority of Americans want elections to be as fair and accurate as possible, so sorting out truth from fiction and understanding how our election processes actually work—as opposed to how partisan sources tell us they work—is important.

Voting by mail comes up a lot in discussions of election integrity, so let's take a look at how mail-in ballots work and clear up some misunderstandings that might cause people concern.


Frequently, people will share things they've heard from a friend or a cable news host or a social media post without verifying whether those things are true. Every state handles mail-in ballots a little differently in terms of how people receive ballots and when they get counted, but the safeguards to prevent fraud and ensure eligible votes are counted are fairly standard.

Rumor: Mail-in voting is too new to be safe and secure.

Reality: Americans have been voting by mail since the 19th century. Those early mail-in votes came from soldiers in the Civil War and since then, members of the military who are deployed outside of their home states have long been voting by mail.

Widespread mail-in voting for civilians is newer, but not new. Oregon has been conducting all mail-in elections since 2000, so has had more than two decades to perfect its system. Washington state has done the same since 2012 and Colorado since 2014. In the past three years, Utah, Hawaii, Vermont and California have gone to all-mail-in voting. (Incidentally, Vermont and Washington took the No. 1 and No. 2 spots for electoral integrity in the 2018 midterm rankings in Harvard's Electoral Integrity Project, and all of the other states named here ranked in the top 20.)

Rumor: Mail-in voting gives Democrats an unfair advantage.

Reality: Studies have shown that there appears to be no statistically significant advantage for either party when mail-in voting is implemented. So there's that.

But as an anecdotal example as well, Washington state (where I live) elected a Republican secretary of state—the person in charge of elections at the state level—multiple times with our mail-in voting system until she resigned last year to work on election security at the federal level. And that's in a Democratic-leaning state overall. And the district I live in has elected a Republican representative to the House for years with all mail-in voting. Mail-in ballots are equally available to everyone and make voting very simple, so it doesn't make sense that it would give either party an advantage.

Rumor: Mail-in voting makes it easier to commit voter fraud.

Reality: The Brookings Institution shared data from the conservative Heritage Foundation that analyzed voter fraud over many years in different states. Here are the number of voter fraud cases Heritage found for states that had mail-in voting during most of the time period they analyzed and the total number of ballots cast during that time.

Colorado: 14 cases over 13 years out of 15,955,704 votes cast.

Oregon: 15 cases over 19 years out of 15,476,519 votes cast

Washington: 12 cases over 6 years out of 10,605,749 votes cast

This is what people mean when they say voter fraud isn't a concern. It's not that it never ever happens. It's just that it doesn't even come close to being anywhere near significant enough to approach making a dent in election results.

And false fraud allegations can have tragic real-world results. Everyone needs to make sure they triple-fact-check fraud claims before passing them along.

Rumor: I know of people who received more than one ballot in the mail, which means they'll be able to vote twice.

Reality: Nope, they can't vote twice even if they have two ballots. It doesn't really matter how many ballots a person receives since only one can be submitted and processed for each voter. Election officials try to avoid voters receiving more than one ballot since it causes confusion, but if it happens, it's not an indication that anything fishy is going on. Once one ballot is processed, another ballot for the same voter can't be. Multiple safeguards are in place to ensure that only one ballot is processed for each registered voter and to ensure that the person's signature on the ballot envelope is legitimate.

Rumor: Mail-in voting opens up the possibility of voter coercion.

Reality: This could be true. At a polling place, each individual votes privately so no one else can see who they vote for. People can still feel coerced into voting a certain way, but there's no way for anyone else to really know how they voted. When ballots are mailed to homes, it is possible for one person in the home to force another person to vote a certain way, but: 1) If there are really enough controlling and abusive households that coercion could sway an election, we have bigger problems on our hands than mail-in voting, and 2) Voter intimidation and coercion is a crime, whether it's someone sitting next to a drop box with a gun or someone sitting next to their spouse with a threat.

Rumor: Mail-in voting offers more opportunities for mistakes in the election process.

Reality: There's no evidence for a claim like this. Every voting system can run into problems. Polling places have power outages and voting machines break. Tens of thousands of voters in Virginia were recently given the wrong information about which polling place they are supposed to go to to vote in person. Mail-in voting systems aren't any more prone to things going wrong than any other voting system.

The full reality is that mail-in voting is a convenient, secure way to run an election, which has been proven by bipartisan and nonpartisan sources over and over again. Claims to the contrary are simply political games designed to sow fear and distrust, which is unfortunately an easy way to sway voters.

However you decide to vote, just vote. Democracy only works as intended if we all participate.

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

89Stocker and cottonbro studios|Canva

Mom makes case for getting life insurance on child's other parent

Nobody wants to think about what happens if their child's other parent dies unexpectedly. It's not a pleasant topic but unfortunately it is something that happens sometimes and parents have to do their best to pick up the pieces after such a tragic loss. One mom, had the unfortunate experience of living through this tragedy and she took to social media to explain the steps she took to prepare for this day.

Kelsey Pumel, a multi-hyphenate TikTok creator recently had to help her young daughter process the unexpected loss of her biological father. Pumel and Kobe's father were never married and had broken up years prior but she admits to carrying a life insurance policy on him. The topic was brought up when her viewers informed her that she should file for social security death benefits to assist with the financial responsibility of caring for Kobe.

That's when the mom of five revealed that she took out a life insurance policy on Kobe's father when she was pregnant for multiple reasons.


"I have gotten many rude comments about the life insurance and some wild accusations made but I'm going to say this and I need y'all to hear me. If you have a child with somebody, you should have life insurance one that person, period," Pumel says. "If something were to happen, you're going to get that kickback of money to help you either raise your kids or to make up for the income that is now missing."

In a follow up video she clarifies that you do need the other person's consent in order to take out the policy. Pumel also answers the question on what she's doing with the insurance money after the death of her child's father.

"When I first got the money, I did take a chunk of it and I paid off all of my student loans, now stick with me. Why did I do that? Well, I had about $95K worth of student loans, my interest was over $6K a year. I wasn't even cutting any of it down trying to pay it with that type of interest." She reveals after talking it over with her dad who was helping pay the loans.

"So we came up with a payment plan that pays the entire $95K plus interest back to Kobe, paying it monthly into a 529 Plan, which is a college fund for her. So all that money will go into that plan for her. If she doesn't go to college or doesn't use all of it, it will be kicked over in an investment account that she will be able to pull at retirement age."

@growingwithkelsey

Replying to @bossyasf83 Correct me if im wrong about SS benefits but thats what I was told. But Kobe is going to be alright! I promise you I am getting her the brightest future possible set up! ♥️🫶🏼 #lifeinsurance

Not only is Pumel making sure Kobe has money to retire with, she's taking some of the money and putting it into a high yield account for her daughter. She also plans to buy a real estate property that will go to the little girl when she turns 18. Really, Pumel has thought of everything she could to make sure her daughter is set up to be financially secure her entire life.

While no one wishes for their children to experience the death of a parent before their time, this mom proves that having a life insurance policy on a coparent is simply a smart choice. Parents in the comments are applauding her for talking about this so openly.

@growingwithkelsey

Replying to @ohitsamber84 There are so many ways to set up an financial future for your children without big chunks of money! I strongly recommend talking with a financial advisor if you have kids and seeing what options you may have to ensure them a strong future. ♥️🫶🏼

"And BOOM that is how generational wealth is made baby! Good for you mama," one person says.

"Girl your daughter may not understand now. But when she gets older she will thank you immensely," another writes.

"That's perfect! Exactly what she'll need! Car, college, house...set her up to have no debt," someone else proclaims.

There's one word you can't say on a cruise ship.

On December 10, Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas set sail on the Ultimate World Cruise—a 274-day global trek that visits 11 world wonders and over 60 countries. This incredible trip covers the Americas, Asia Pacific, Middle East, Mediterranean and Europe with a ticket price that ranges from $53,999 to $117,599 per passenger.

Aboard the Serenade to the Seas is popular TikToker Marc Sebastian, who has been sharing his experience on the platform.

In a recent video with over 4.3 million views, he revealed what he’s learned over his first few weeks aboard the ship; the biggest was the one word you’re not allowed to say: Titanic.


“Who knew that? I didn’t,” Sebastian said. “I brought it up to an entire room of people having lunch that our ship is only 100 feet longer than the Titanic — when I tell you that utensils dropped. Waiters gasped. It’s dead silent.”

@marcsebastianf

someone get whoopi on the line girl i have some goss for her #ultimateworldcruise #worldcruise #serenadeoftheseas #cruisetok #cruise #9monthcruise #titanic

After the unexpected reaction, his cruise friend told him, “You’re not allowed to talk about the Titanic.” It makes sense. Who wants to be reminded of the tragedy that killed around 1,500 people while sinking one of the most impressive engineering feats of the era? "When I went on a cruise, my mom told me saying Titanic was equivalent to screaming ‘bomb’ at an airport," Mikayla wrote in the comments.

Later in the video, Sebastian admits he was surprised to learn that cruise ships have godmothers and that the pools are filled with seawater.


This article originally appeared on 1.25.24

@inspiringbelfast/TikTok

Maybe this dose of wholesome humanity brighten your day.

Imagine walking down the street, minding your own business, when a complete stranger unfurls a red carpet at your feet. What do you do? Awkwardly avoid it and continue along your route? Tell the person off for not respecting boundaries? Or do you wholeheartedly accept the impromptu invitation and strut your best stuff?

For the passersby of Belfast, option three was the only choice.

Alan Wallace, who routinely posts uplifting videos that “share the warmth” of his hometown over on TikTok, recently added a video of himself going up to random folks on the street and giving them a moment to shine. And let’s just say, they nailed it.


Folks from all walks of life—including a construction worker that could be Michael Sheen’s doppelgänger—lit up at the opportunity to catwalk, skateboard, cartwheel and even do the worm down the crimson strip.

In a mere matter of seconds, we see all that humanity has to offer—humor, free expression, joy, inclusivity, connection. Such powerful stuff shown in the simplest way.

Even if the moment wasn’t quite as spontaneous as the video makes it appear (Wallace likely asked for permission before rolling the carpet out each time) these people still agreed to play. And that’s what’s magical about it.

“Everyone understood the assignment, from young to old, it was perfect,” one viewer wrote.

@inspiringbelfast Red carpet for strangers in Belfast #inspiringbelfast #belfastcity #belfast #heartwarming ♬ Beautiful Things (Sped Up) - Benson Boone

It’s natural for most people to not want to interact with strangers. And of course there are legitimate safety reasons influencing this instinct. But a lot of the time our avoidance comes from expecting things to be unenjoyable. And yet, research shows not only that people are often pleasantly surprised by how much connection, kindness, belonging and optimism they end up experiencing.

So maybe we don’t need a red carpet to simply enjoy saying hi to someone we meet on the street and reaping the benefits. But hey, it certainly helps.

Representative Image from Canva

Every parent should know about this game. Many have experienced it as kids.

Nurse and mom Jinny Schmidt wants parents to be aware of a game that’s circulating amongst tweens right now, because it’s not a game at all.

In a PSA posted to her TikTok, Schmidt shared that her daughter informed her that boys in her class were beginning to play what she called “The Firetruck Game.”

As Schmidt begins to describe what the “game” entails, it’s easy to see why she’s concerned. All parents should be.


Here’s how the game works: a boy puts his hand on a girl’s lower thigh. And he tells her “my hand is a firetruck” as he slowly moves it up her leg. When the girl gets uncomfortable, she is supposed to say “red light.” Except for when the girl says “red light,” the boy responds with “sorry, firetrucks don’t stop for red lights.” And so they run their hand all the way up the girl’s leg, Schmidt explains, and sometimes they “touch the girl’s crotch.” Yikes.

Many viewers noted growing up with the Firetruck Game, or a version called “The Nervous Game,” or “Red Light Green Light.” Suddenly The “Squid Game” version of “Red Light Green Light” doesn’t seem so bad.

No matter what it’s called, though, it’s touching without consent, and is inappropriate on so many levels, not least of which being that it’s an excuse for sexual assault. Hence Schmidt’s alarm.

“I know that kids will be kids and kids will do some stupid shit, But we’ve got to do better teaching our boys to keep their hands off of other people and teaching our girls that it’s okay to have boundaries,” she says, before asking parents to “be aware” if they hear their kids talking about it.
@the.funny.nurse Y’all gonna see me on the 6 O’clock news. #jrhigh #kids #tween #preteen #parents #moms #momsoftiktok #dads #dadsoftiktok #teacher #teachersoftiktok #publicschool #school #firetruck #firetruckgame #firetruckgameawareness #girls #boys #game ♬ original sound - Jin-Jin

And she is, of course, absolutely right. Folks who watched her video wholeheartedly agreed that the behavior should not be tolerated, and many shared some pretty intense, although warranted, reactions to it.

“We’d be playing a game called Ambulance next,” one person wrote.

“Press charges,” said another.

“We have a game also. It’s called ‘oops I broke your finger,’” a third added.

But many also chimed in to say that they would be talking to their kids immediately about it, which is probably the best route overall. That way kids can protect themselves, and others around them.

Middle school years in general are pretty rough. They can be just as difficult to navigate for parents as they can be for the kids going through it. It’s painful to watch your still baby-faced child go through many of the same awful pains that you did, many of which are unavoidable. But some things, like terrible and abusive games, can be avoided. So make sure to have those important conversations when you can.