Voter Education in the Digital Age: State and Local Election Official Use of Social Media
Social Data Research Fellowship
Each election cycle, state and local election officials in the United States are tasked with informing voters about what is needed to vote. As the use of social media has proliferated in elections, election officials have started using these accounts to educate constituents about the voting process and highlight changes in voting procedures. This study proposes an examination of voter education efforts through social media by these officials. Specifically, it proposes data collection on the use of Facebook and Twitter for all state and local election jurisdictions in the United States during the 2020 general election cycle, and a social media content analysis focused on voter education posts by all 50 states and a sample of local jurisdictions. I expect that larger, better resourced, socioeconomically advantaged jurisdictions, and jurisdictions where the majority of the voter population is white, are more likely to have election officials consistently using social media for voter education. Tangible products of this research will be a novel dataset of state and local election official social media usage during the 2020 general election cycle, scholarly publications, and a foundation for over-time data collection during future elections. With the ability to quickly convey information on platforms that are widely available and consistent in form from user to user, social media accounts of state and local election officials stand to be a potentially vital place for the public to seek accurate information about how to properly vote, especially during an election cycle disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Assistant Professor, Connecticut College
Mara Suttmann-Lea is an assistant professor of American politics in the Department of Government and International Relations at Connecticut College. Suttmann-Lea studies election administration in the United States, focusing on voting reforms and voter education. Suttmann-Lea’s research examines how the intermediaries between election laws and the public—election officials, campaign and party organizations, and poll workers—shape participation and engagement in elections. In addition to academic work, Suttmann-Lea also engages in public-facing scholarship, and has written for the Washington Post and the London School of Economics American Politics and Policy blog.
Suttmann-Lea’s SSRC Social Data Research Fellowship examines how state and local election officials in the United States use social media to educate followers about the voting process during the 2020 election cycle. Along with examining their efforts to educate voters about how to register and vote in person, Suttmann-Lea focuses heavily on voter education efforts pertaining to mail voting. This research is especially pertinent given the significant changes being made to the administration of elections to ensure safe and healthy voting in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.