One of 18 Research Grants from MIT Election Data and Science Lab Awarded to A-State Researchers

JONESBORO – A pair of Arkansas State University professors have received a $95,173 grant to continue their research. Dr. Cameron Wimpy, assistant professor of political science and interim department chair and Dr. William McLean, associate vice chancellor for faculty relations and associate professor of political science, were awarded the grant for their research project “Exploring Rural Election Administration: with Special Attention to the Mississippi River Delta.”

“The grant is funded by the MIT Election Data and Science Lab along with The Pew Charitable Trusts,” said Wimpy. Wimpy is the principal investigator and McLean is the co-investigator.

“We have three distinct phases of research. The first involves investigating the impact of rurality on election administration in a big data, quantitative study that involves election administration data and records over several election cycles. The second phase involves employing undergraduates to work with us on analyzing the electronic tools that rural jurisdictions provide to their voters,” explained Wimpy.

“Finally, we will conduct a series of focus groups with election officials from seven states along the lower Mississippi River Delta region. This, in many ways, is the most unique and interesting facet of our project.”

The states included in the study will be Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. “The biggest challenge to conducting large-scale research projects is time. This grant gives us that time and it is very exciting to be working on something that is such high importance to the health of our country’s elections. There are also obvious connections here to our own state and the areas traditionally served by A-State, and that means a great deal to us being from this area ourselves,” said Wimpy.

Wimpy and McLean make up one of 18 research teams who will receive part of the nearly $2 million that was awarded by the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. This funding will allow research to be done on how elections have changed across the country over the past few years.

“Although most citizens have a broad idea of how elections work, there is still much to learn about how the process varies across locales and for different levels of elections. This broad theme in the context of modern challenges such as the pandemic, accessibility and security defines how these projects will examine modern elections in the U.S.,” said Wimpy.

“Through learning from both election officials and the public at large, these projects can shed additional light on the challenges, perceptions and even best practices throughout American elections. Our specific interest is learning how the context of rurality affects election administration.”

Wimpy said cooperation from local officials will be the most vital phase of the project, “We generally find election officials to be quite eager to work with the research community so they can both share their own expertise and learn from others. Of course they are also almost always understaffed and overworked so we are very respectful of their time and the important role they play in the democratic process for their communities.”

Wimpy also serves as the director of the Institute for Rural Initiatives (IRI) established in 2022 at A-State. The goal of IRI is to become a key institutional asset for students, faculty and staff while they work to build bridges with rural communities. Wimpy said IRI was recently approved by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. “Ideally we can secure additional funding in the future and make rural election administration an important pillar in the IRI’s research portfolio.”

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