MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab has just announced it will award  $2 million for academic and nonprofit research projects into the myriad ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how U.S. elections are run.  

Because of COVID-19, “ensuring that all eligible Americans would have access to a safe and reliable method of voting was an enormous undertaking,” says the MIT election lab announcement. 

“For the first time in history, most Americans cast their ballots before Election Day,” it added, because of social distancing. Every state had to alter its usual elections procedures and most also changed elections laws and regulations.   

The proposed research comes at a critical time. The January 6 hearings have underscored how election officials and administrators were subjected to partisan conflict and political pressure, and also targets of violence and misinformation during the 2020 elections–the first held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even without these developments, the pandemic has caused disruptions in how elections are conducted and raised questions about what the ‘new normal’ should be,” the MIT election lab said in the announcement.

Consequently, there is a need, it said, for “fact-based analysis of election administration that will inform the evolution of [elections] law and professional practice.”

MIT’s Evolving Election Administration Landscape program expects to award grants to from 15 to 20 projects with budgets of $50,000 to $200,000. The Pew Charitable Trusts’s Election Performance Project is providing funding.

The MIT elections lab said it is interested in projects that examine changes in voting by mail, voter registration, polling places, and voter experience, elections offices’ institutional capacity, and combating misinformation and building trust. 

It encourages academic and nonprofit researchers to collaborate with state and local election administrators and said it can match up researchers and election officials. 

If you’re interested and applying and have questions, the MIT elections lab is holding an informational webinar on June 30 at 2 p.m. Register for the June 30 webinar here

The deadlines for proposals are July 22 to be considered in the first round and  August 12 for the second round. 

Learn more about the grant application here.

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