Elections in a Pandemic (2020-2021)

Building on research started in Summer 2020, this project team investigated the challenges that the coronavirus outbreak posed to democratic electoral processes related to voter turnout and voting rights. Specific topics included:

  • Preserving access to the ballot during a pandemic, particularly for at-risk citizens
  • Protecting the health of voters and poll workers
  • Preserving voting rights for students
  • Reducing effects of provisional balloting

Team members analyzed large secondary datasets as well as batches of microdata at the precinct level to examine past elections, including who voted (measured in terms of categories, such as geographic location, age and voting history), where and how they voted (e.g., early voting, election-day voting, absentee ballots, provisional ballots) and how their votes have been counted (e.g., which provisional ballots have been counted, which have not). This data was used to make projections about electoral participation in the 2020 election, to forecast factors such as crowding risk at polling sites and to issue recommendations regarding polling locations, participant distancing and staffing needs.

Team members also interviewed and surveyed individuals involved with, or affected by, balloting and voting practices to understand how the 2020 circumstances altered past precedent. Focusing specifically on absentee balloting, team members examined the history of absentee ballot rejection, monitored ballot rejection rates in several counties in North Carolina and evaluated the effectiveness of BallotTrax, a new app that N.C. counties used to track absentee ballots.

The team also worked to promote voter turnout in the 2020 election. Collaborating with Durham Drives, a grassroots organization created to drive voters to and from the polls, team members reached out to thousands of Durham voters who do not have drivers’ licenses to see if they needed rides to the vote. The team also created Spanish-language voter resources and aimed to increase student turnout by assessing and developing student-centered voter messaging.


Fall 2020 – Spring 2021

Team Outputs

Best practice recommendations for nonpartisan public officials

Recommendations for strengthening civic engagement

Messaging and media for young voters


Abigail Phillips


Democracy Challenges and Opportunities in a Pandemic

This Team in the News

Bass Connections Teams Tackling COVID-19 Problems, from Food Security to Voting-by-Mail

Duke Today Covers Elections in a Pandemic Bass Connections Class

Elections in a Pandemic

Senior Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2023

See related team, Elections in a Pandemic: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (2021-2022).

Vote sign.

Team Leaders

  • Alexandra Cooper, Social Science Research Institute
  • Gunther Peck, Arts & Sciences-History

/graduate Team Members

  • Tina Tucker, Political Science-PHD
  • Jessye Halvorson, Masters of Public Policy
  • Chase Johnson, Masters of Public Policy
  • Jeremiah Lau, Masters of Public Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Abigail Phillips, Political Science (AB)
  • Genna Wolinsky, Political Science (AB)
  • Trinity Wenzel Wertheim, Political Science (AB)
  • Benjamin Wallace, Program II (AB)
  • Tri Truong, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Kathryn Thomas, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Sanna Symer, Computer Science (BS)
  • Jamael Smith, Computer Science (BS)
  • Emma Shokeir, Political Science (AB)
  • Isabel Rewick, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Gwyneth Reece, Psychology (BS)
  • Ameya Rao, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Garrett Allen
  • Amber Park, GCS in Literature Program (AB)
  • Shirley Mathur, Statistical Science (BS)
  • Grant Lyerly, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Margarita Lane, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Paul Kim, Biology (BS)
  • Adam Israelevitz, Political Science (AB)
  • Haley Cush, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Jeremy Carballo Pineda, Public Policy Studies (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Deondra Rose, Sanford School of Public Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • North Carolina State Board of Elections
  • You Can Vote, North Carolina