The widespread disruptions to the 2020 election cycle caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic created opportunities for policy researchers to examine the connection between access to voting and turnout. Primary elections in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states were negatively impacted by the lack of planning, resources, and a legal framework for addressing extraordinary circumstances like a pandemic. In the subsequent months many states took a variety of emergency measures in the wake of these failures. Turnout in the 2020 general election was higher than 2016 in every state, when measured by voting eligible population (VEP).

The sometimes ad hoc responses to the emergency, combined with political battles that erupted over mail-in balloting in particular, contributed to public questioning of the integrity of the election. Republicans have sought to reverse vote access changes made during the pandemic out of concerns over election integrity. According to the Brennan Center, 18 states have enacted 30 laws to restrict vote access since the 2020 general election. Democrats have taken a strong position that temporary vote access changes should be made permanent, and that the federal government ought to intervene to regulate state access laws. Democrats in the US House have passed H.R. 1, which is partly aimed at this outcome. They have also recently passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is directly aimed at limited state powers to alter vote access.

The many changes to voting access during the 2020 general election presents us an opportunity for testing whether there is a causal relationship between state vote access policies, to inform the ongoing public debate, and help to establish an evidence-based policy approach to vote access.



Policy Lab students will analyze the relationship between access, as measured in the 2020 Policy Lab Access Scorecard, and turnout in the 2020 general election. The research will attempt to address the following criteria:

  1. Analyze and attempt to establish the validity of our independent variable for access (2020 Access Scorecard).
  2. Using 50-state county-level turnout and census data, measure the marginal effects of access on turnout. Examine whether these effects differ by groups such as race, age, education, party affiliation, etc.
  3. Using administrative data collected from selected counties, compare effects of access on individual voters by key characteristics (race, age, education, party affiliation) and determine causality.

Voter Turnout and Access