Students Present Elections in a Pandemic Projects

In a few weeks, our democracy as we know it will be put to the test.  The upcoming election is one of the most important ones we may encounter in our lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink the way our democracy is operated to ensure a safe, open, and fair election.

This past summer, a group of students came together to tackle some of the most daunting civic engagement questions our democracy faces:

  • How can we increase student voter participation?
  • How can we reduce the number of provisional ballots casted in North Carolina?
  • How can we best guide students through the voter registration process?
  • How can we protect the health of poll workers and the right to vote during this pandemic?
  • How can we civically engage post high school alums who lack certain social networks?
  • How can we implement a drive-thru voting system in North Carolina to increase the safety of voters and poll workers while simultaneously increasing voter turnout?

With the help of Dr. Gunther Peck, Adam Beyer, Tina Tucker, and Xiao Lu, 18 bright students spent their summer researching the best solutions to some of the biggest problems our elections face in the midst of a global pandemic.

Automated SMS Chatbot to Increase Student Voter Participation

Diya Chadha (‘23), Mo Khatami (‘22), and Wyatt Gildea (‘23) created a Chatbot SMS messaging system to conduct widespread student outreach and answer questions regarding absentee ballots, polling locations, voting ID, etc. As they state, the logic for why this works is simple: “succinct and direct messaging with easy, low-effort, and low-commitment prompts spur action​.” Read more about their project here.

Provisional Ballot Rejection Prevention Phone Bank

James Toscano (‘21) and Erin Regan (‘21) designed a phone bank to reach out to NC voters and ensure that their ballots are not counted as provisional, as NC provisional ballots get rejected 56% of the time. Their short-term solution would assist in the upcoming election until their bigger policy recommendations – online voter registration and election day registration – can be implemented for future elections. Click the following links to learn more about their project and their phone banking resources.

Voting Registration Guides for Students

To help guide students through the voting registration process, Dalia Ditcher (‘21) and Lucy Callard (‘22) created two useful resources. Their flowchart makes it easy for students to find the best way to register based and their calendar can be downloaded to remind students of important deadlines based on their home state.

Protect the Right to Vote

The pandemic has forced many older poll workers to prioritize their health, so to ensure that people still have the right to cast their vote, Lexi Mandell (‘22), Richard Lombardo (‘23) and Ruhama Tereda (‘22) focused on recruiting college-aged poll workers for the upcoming election. They created accessible resources that address common questions a potential poll worker may have and outlined next steps to conduct further recruitment and retention. Click the following links to learn more about their proposal, resources, FAQ, and next steps.

Voter Engagement with Jordan High School Graduates

Dylan Lev (‘22), Guadalupe Pulido (‘21), Raffay Rana (‘23) and Amelia Steinbach (‘21) collected data on Jordan High School alumni voter registration rates to figure out the best way to engage post high school graduates who may not have college networks. They created an Instagram account specifically tailored to JHS alumni to provide information about the upcoming election in order to increase voter engagement. You can check out their presentation here.

Drive Thru Voting

Kathryn Thomas (‘24), Ryan Lee (‘21), Yajur Sriraman (‘23), and Arjun Chadha investigated how to protect the health of poll workers and voters while still maintaining a safe and secure election. Their research led them to create a drive thru voting proposal for North Carolina and 10 counties, including Wake and Durham. The team concluded that drive thru voting would allow poll workers and voters to better social distance, protecting their own health and their right to vote. Click here to read more about their proposal.

Introducing Elections in the Pandemic Bass Connections Team

The projects that these dedicated students worked on does not end here. This fall, Gunther Peck and Alexandra Cooper – alongside other notable Sanford faculty including Nick Carnes, Deondra Rose, and Suzanne Katzenstein – will be heading a team of 25 students for a bass connections project that is inspired by all the hard work the summer cohort conducted. The Elections in a Pandemic Bass Connections team will investigate the challenges that the COVID-19 outbreak poses to democratic electoral processes related to voter turnout and voting rights.