Democracy Challenges and Opportunities: EIP Bass Connections Project

This year, students in the Elections in a Pandemic Bass Connections team have led innovative research into ways to improve electoral equity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by Hart Leadership Program Director Gunther Peck and Associate Director of the Social Science Research Institute Alexandra Cooper, 24 students worked on 10 research projects in four major categories: organizing, messaging, election information and disinformation, and access and public safety. Each project involved collaboration with nonpartisan actors and agencies.

Two projects focused on organizing work, specifically targeted at college students. Jamael Smith, Amber Park, and Ameya Rao aimed to mobilize college students by distributing information to first-year students via resident assistants and special social media pages in order to increase voter turnout. Jessye Halvorson, Trinity Wenzel Wertheim, and Daisy Lane examined how texting student non-voters might persuade them to vote.

Two groups focused on messaging related to the election. Jerry Lau and Abigail Phillips examined the “Why Vote?” Video Challenge submissions to study the efficacy of different types of messaging targeted at students. Isabel Rewick and Paul Kim focused on which single issues are most salient to young Asian American voters, who have traditionally been an under-researched demographic.

Three projects focused on studying election information and disinformation. Genna Wolinsky, Tri Truong, and Haley Cush researched which demographics are most affected by disinformation and misinformation campaigns, and how that impacted their voting outcomes. Adam Israelevits and Garrett Allen researched the impact of Spanish-language campaign materials and resources on Spanish-speaking communities’ voter turnout. Jeremy Carballo Pineda and Shirley Mathur created social media content to increase voter turnout for young Latinx voters by providing more information on how to vote.

Three groups investigated access and public safety. Gwyn Reece and Ben Wallace researched the obstacles that students voting by mail face in the attempt to get their ballot accepted. Chase Johnson, Emma Shokeir, and Kathryn Thomas investigated how North Carolina counties used the BallotTrax vote-by-mail ballot tracking system to see if it actually reduces ballot rejection rates. Sanna Symer and Grant Lyerly examined the effects of free transportation to the polls on voter participation, especially in lower-income communities.

Each of the student groups sought to engage with the ongoing project of democracy to expand access and opportunity for many communities. The results of these projects will be incredibly important in ensuring the fairness of future elections and will hopefully guide democratic practices at Duke, in Durham, and in North Carolina as a whole.

The Hart Leadership Program would like to extend its thanks to the faculty, teaching assistants, and supporting faculty who helped to guide this Bass Connections project: Gunther Peck, Alexandra Cooper, Tina Tucker, Ana Ramirez, D. Sunshine Hillygus, Suzanne Katzenstein, Deondra Rose, Eric Mlyn, Bruce Orenstein, and Ryan Denniston. Additionally, we would like to thank the community organizations and nonprofits which students collaborated with: Democracy North Carolina, You Can Vote, North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT), Poder NC Action, Forward Justice, the North Carolina State Board of Elections, NC Voters for Clean Elections, and the Hart Leadership Program’s own Democracy Lab.

You can watch each student team presentation here: