Access to Voting: What Does Research Tell Us?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
Image of ghosted people of different ethnicities at voting booths

The PPC hosted a virtual panel discussion around the topics of voter access (polling locations, voting options in the pandemic, voter ID, etc.) and election administration and security (mail-in voting, etc.) on Oct 22, 2020 at 6:30 pm. The panel was held via Zoom.

NPR reporter Miles Parks gave keynote remarks, which focused on questions of cybersecurity and making voting safe and secure during a pandemic. He gave insight to his personal reporting, which focuses on misinformation and who stands to benefit from it, as well as politicians who stoke partisan flames. Parks also described conspiracy theories flourishing during this election, as well as ones that may emerge if an immediate result is not reached on election night or soon after. He warned of Russia and Iran trying to disrupt our election with voter intimidation, as well as local election officials needing more funding. 

Parks considers this year’s historic voter turnout incredible, given all the reasons people have not to vote, including a distrust of mail-in ballots, not having easy access to a polling place, or the fears of the pandemic. 

Emily Beaulieu Bacchus, an associate professor in Comparative Politics at the University of Kentucky, started the panel discussion with an explanation of how and when fraud occurs, emphasizing that fraudulent registration is incredibly rare, even essentially nonexistent. “You cannot pick a less efficient way to sway an election,” she said, citing how difficult it is to figure out the varying rules of different states and counties. Where fraud does commonly occur is in the manipulation of the final numbers and purposefully keeping people away from the polls. Her research pointed to Republicans and specifically Trump stirring up controversy over voter fraud even when it’s almost nonexistent, and using this as leverage for voter suppression. 

Barry Burden, a professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, focused on voting by absentee ballot and its pros and cons. He said it is much more work than voting in person but is also a “lifesaver” for people who cannot get to the polls or choose not to for personal reasons. Because absentee ballots require mailing time, possibly influential information from the final days of the campaign will not factor in their vote. But even with voters moving toward early voting and voting by mail, voting on election day is still popular and the preferred method for many.

Absentee ballots and their use vary widely between states, Burden continued. In some states, like Oregon, voters are automatically mailed a ballot, but in other states like Texas, voters must request one, and fear of the pandemic is not considered a valid reason to vote by mail. High ballot rejection rates and incorrect ballot marking by voters are also problems, especially in states that lack experience with absentee voting. 

Gabriel Ramon Sanchez, a professor of Political Science at University of New Mexico, discussed issues for Latino voters in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. A population of 32 million potential voters, Latinos are testing positive and dying disproportionally. Historically, they prefer to vote in person on election day, and have little familiarity with absentee voting, and doubt the system’s integrity. Sanchez warned we could see significantly lower turnout by Latino voters this year because of fears of mail fraud and COVID-19. As a group, Latinos also have low confidence in the health of democracy in the U.S., and are disproportionally affected by strict voter ID laws.

A Q&A, moderated by Tom Rice, distinguished research fellow in the Politics and Policy Research Program, and professor of Political Science, followed the presentations. The full event can be viewed below.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020
Session Details Speakers
6:30 PM Welcome and Introductions
  1. Peter Damiano
  2. Tracy Osborn
6:40 PM Keynote Remarks
  1. Miles Parks
7:00 PM Panel Discussion, followed by Q&A
  1. Emily Beaulieu Bacchus
  2. Barry Burden
  3. Gabriel R. Sanchez
  • Emily Beaulieu Bacchus

    University of Kentucky

    Emily Beaulieu Bacchus is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies at the University of Kentucky.  She is also a series editor for the Cambridge ElementsCampaigns and Elections series.  Her own research expertise focuses on perceptions of election fraud and corruption, and the relationship between political violence and partisan polarization. 

  • Barry Burden

    University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Barry Burden is Professor of Political Science, Director of the Elections Research Center, and the Lyons Family Chair in Electoral Politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


    Burden's research and teaching focus on U.S. elections, public opinion, representation, and the U.S. Congress. His recent research has centered on aspects of election administration and voter participation.


    He is the author of Personal Roots of Representation, co-editor with Charles Stewart of The Measure of American Elections, co-author with David Kimball of Why Americans Split Their Tickets, and editor of Uncertainty in American Politics. Burden has published articles in journals such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly, Legislative Studies Quarterly, and Election Law Journal.


    Burden earned his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University and was a faculty member at Harvard University before joining UW-Madison in 2006. He is affiliated with the La Follette School of Public Affairs, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Center for Demography of Health and Aging.

  • Peter Damiano

    Director, Public Policy Center

    Peter Damiano is the Director of the Public Policy Center (PPC) and Bernstein Professor, Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry at the University of Iowa. He started the health policy research program at the PPC in 1990 and has been Director of the Center since July 2007. He is a health services researcher who investigates issues relating to access to care, quality, cost and outcomes of care. Dr. Damiano has authored over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and research monographs and has been the principal investigator on over 50 research studies funded by federal, state and Foundation sources. He is a former staff intern in the US Senate, a Robert Wood Johnson Dental Health Services Research Scholar and HRSA Primary Care Policy Fellow. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry (DDS) and UCLA School of Public Health (MPH).

  • Tracy Osborn

    University of Iowa Department of Political Science

    Tracy Osborn is the Director of the Politics and Policy Group at the Iowa and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science.  Her research focuses on women, politics, and public policy in the U.S. state legislatures and Congress, women’s political behavior, and gendered violence.  She received her Ph.D. from Indiana University in 2004 and joined the political science department at the University of Iowa in 2007.  Currently, her research examines women legislators’ partisanship and policy development in the U.S. state legislatures since 1960, public opinion toward women terrorists and terrorism policy, and antifeminist policy and women’s representation in the U.S. states.

  • Miles Parks

    National Public Radio (NPR)

    Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.


    Parks joined NPR as the 2014-15 Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow. Since then, he's investigated FEMA's efforts to get money back from Superstorm Sandy victims, profiled budding rock starsand produced for all three of NPR's weekday news magazines.


    A graduate of the University of Tampa, Parks also previously covered crime and local government for The Washington Post and The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla.


    In his spare time, Parks likes playing, reading and thinking about basketball. He wrote The Washington Post's obituary of legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt.

  • Gabriel R. Sanchez

    University of New Mexico

    Gabriel R. Sanchez, PhD.  is a Professor of Political Science, and the Founding Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Endowed Chair in Health Policy at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Sanchez is also the Director of the UNM Center for Social Policy, and a founding member of the UNM Native American Budget and Policy Institute. Sanchez is also a Principal at Latino Decisions, the nation’s leading survey firm focused on the Latino electorate, is a non-Resident Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, and leading expert on Latino and New Mexico politics and policy, he regularly provides political commentary to several state, national, and international media outlets including the New York Times, CNN, Los Angeles Times, and the Economist. Professor Sanchez is a nationally recognized expert in survey research and the utilization of rigorous research to inform public policy decisions at the federal, state, and local levels. Sanchez has been on the faculty at UNM since 2005 and is a native New Mexican, and a graduate of St. Pius X High School here in Albuquerque.


    Dr. Sanchez is leading several research projects focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the Latino and Native American communities, including multiple survey of parents aimed at understanding the experiences of parents regarding distance learning and their attitudes toward the transition back to in-person education. Sanchez has also directed several research projects for clients interested in developing strategies to engage Latino voters and promote civic engagement. Along with LD’s co-founder Matt Barreto, Sanchez has written several expert witness reports utilized in voter ID and voting rights cases across the country.


    Sanchez received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Arizona. His academic research explores the relationship between racial/ethnic identity and political engagement, Latino health politics and policy, and minority legislative behavior. Sanchez has published more than fifty scholarly research articles, chapters and books focused on minority public opinion, electoral behavior and racial and ethnic politics in the United States. He is the co-author of the recent book Latinos and the 2016 Election: Latino Resistance and the Election of Donald Trump, and co-author of the forthcoming text book (with John A. Garcia) Latino Politics in America: Community, Culture, and Interests.

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