Elections in a Pandemic: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (2021-2022)


The U.S. general election in 2020 was like no other. Remarkable social forces and unprecedented levels of organization and interest across the political spectrum motivated turnout higher than had been seen in a century. Voters used new tools such as online absentee ballot tracking to express their views in unprecedented numbers. 

The 2020 elections, across the ballots, will be examined for years to come. Scholars and activists will study what worked and what did not and for whom, whose voices were heard, when and how, and who was excluded from participation or opted not to vote.

This is a pivotal moment for research to understand our current political situation, examine what happened in 2020 and consider its implications – including issuing recommendations – for our future.

Project Description

This project seeks to understand what happened in the 2020 election and to use that information to make recommendations in terms of ensuring representation of all Americans in the political system moving forward.

The previous teams focused on activism and the effects of that activism on facilitating participation in the 2020 election. The 2021-2022 project team will have more access to data about what happened.  They will use this to understand the 2020 election and look forward and make recommendations for future elections.

Team members will be divided into small teams to pursue mentored research on topics of particular interest, which will incorporate a range of different aspects of the election, its institutions, decisions made around and about those institutions, and the outcomes of those decisions. Potential issues to explore include:

  • How different demographic groups participated in the election and the effects that participation had on them and on the election
  • How voting procedures protected or threatened the health of voters and poll workers
  • Whether the election preserved access to the ballot for at risk citizens
  • The effects of provisional balloting and how different groups of voters were affected
  • How well new tools such as online tracking of mail-in ballots worked (and for whom)

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.

Anticipated Outputs

Conference presentations; reports to Board of Elections officials and/or activist groups; multi-media outputs such as YouTube or TikTok videos to educate young voters; academic publications

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will be comprised of 2 graduate students and 15-20 undergraduate students. Interested undergraduate students will likely be from majors spanning history, public policy, political science, psychology and neuroscience, sociology and statistical science. This topic may also interest students from other fields so applications from across the university departments will be welcomed. 

Students will need to bring a motivation to learn and have some background in one or more of the following areas: advocacy, casual inference, data management, qualitative methods, quantitative methods, psychology, U.S. history and U.S. politics.

This project offers team members the opportunity to engage directly with primary research on a contemporary challenge related to the continued success of democratic governance in the U.S. Team members can choose a range of ways to focus on this multifaceted topic. They can use analytic tools from expert interviews to large datasets and think critically and creatively about the problems the 2020 election posed, how they were addressed and the impacts of those efforts. Looking ahead, team members will use their research to generate meaningful recommendations to those affected, ranging from ordinary voters to public officials. 

Graduate students will mentor undergraduates but will also engage in this crucial research area. In addition to what is outlined above, there is tremendous potential for academic output – conference presentations and journal articles. Understanding what happened in the 2020 election, what we can learn from it and how we can improve on it will be critical topics for many different disciplines. 

Students will work in small (3-4 person) teams, each with a topical focus and a single student identified to serve as point person for coordinating their team’s division of responsibilities and managing communications. Weekly meetings with the group will be around topics of shared interest, including lectures, guest speakers and student presentations.

Tina Tucker will serve as project manager. 


Summer 2021 – Spring 2022

  • Summer 2021 (optional): Discuss and develop research areas; form subteams; identify team leaders; read preliminary and other background materials to prepare for fall work
  • Fall 2021: Take part in weekly meetings with students; develop projects; work on research, presentations and white papers
  • Spring 2022: Improve and fine-tune research; develop reports and other materials; give  presentations to relevant groups and/or at conferences or other events


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See earlier related team, Elections in a Pandemic (2020-2021).


Image: Alicia Medina becomes the 22nd person to register to vote on September 22nd, 2020 at the voter registration tent at the West Campus Bust stop, by Bill Snead/Duke University

Alicia Medina becomes the 22nd person to register to vote on September 22nd, 2020

Team Leaders

  • Gunther Peck, Arts & Sciences-History

/graduate Team Members

  • Emma Dries, Masters of Public Policy
  • Tina Tucker, Political Science-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Delaney Eisen
  • Zahra Hassan
  • Chase Johnson
  • Abigail Kantor
  • Idan Kantor
  • Miles King
  • Ryan Lou
  • Daniel Marshall, Economics (BS)
  • Ryan Mitchell
  • Matthew Mohn
  • Alexandra Ostad, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Matthew Peljovich
  • Ameya Rao
  • Madeleine Reinhard
  • Allison Shi
  • Evelyn Shi
  • Kathryn Thomas
  • Zoe Tishaev
  • Luke Vermeer, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Christina Wang
  • Maximilien Wilkey, Political Science (AB)
  • Luhan Yao, Political Science (AB), Visual and Media Studies (AB2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Deondra Rose, Sanford School of Public Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Damon Circosta, State Board of Elections - North Carolina
  • You Can Vote, North Carolina