Talk about an attention grabber.
Of the 3.4 million scholarly articles tracked in 2020 for the amount of attention and discussion they generated, research on voting led by NIU political scientist Scot Schraufnagel clocked in at No. 80.
The list was compiled by Altmetric, a company that tracks and analyzes the online activity around scholarly literature.
The full rankings can be viewed in the Altmetric Top 100, which highlights research and scholarly commentary published in 2020 that generated significant international online attention and discussion – from patents and public policy documents to mainstream media, blogs, Wikipedia and social media platforms.
This year’s Top 100 represents the most discussed research from all disciplines. Using its Altmetric Attention Score, the company selected the top five works from 20 subject areas.
Schraufnagel’s research fell into the category of Law and Legal Studies. His study, titled “Cost of Voting in the American States: 2020,” was published online in October ahead of print in Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy.
Schraufnagel and his colleagues, NIU alumnus Michael J. Pomante II of Jacksonville University and Quan Li of Wuhan University in China, analyzed which U.S. states make it easiest to vote, and those that make it more challenging. The 2020 study refreshed work they originally published two years earlier.
To rank states, the researchers developed a Cost of Voting Index (COVI). The index considered an assemblage of dozens of current election laws, and index scores were used to rank each state according to the time and effort it takes to vote. Importantly, both stages of the voting process—registering to vote and casting a ballot—are combined into a single index value.
“Voting and elections are at the heart of our democracy,” Schraufnagel says, “and voting should be easy.”
According to Altmetric, the 2020 voting research was mentioned in 53 news outlets, on four blogs and in 291 tweets.
Media outlets in Texas were particularly interested in the study. It identified the Lone Star State as having the most restrictive voting processes, followed by Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee. On the flipside, Oregon took top honors for making it easy on voters in 2020—followed by Washington, Utah, Illinois and Maryland.
Schraufnagel, who conducted roughly two dozen media interviews this past fall, believes the research is having a positive impact on democracy. Over the course of the past two years, he has received direct and indirect feedback from many nonprofit voting-rights organizations and elected officials.
When the initial COVI was published in 2018, Virginia ranked 49th for ease of vote. By 2020, the state had climbed 37 places, making it the 12th easiest state in which to vote. Specifically, Virginia’s state legislature approved an automatic voter registration law, got rid of the in-person registration deadline and made Election Day a state holiday, among other considerations.
“I know the 2018 article was instrumental in the changes to Virginia’s laws,” Schraufnagel says. “We were interviewed by a dozen different journalists, and the research was cited in the floor debate of (Virginia’s) lower chamber. We’re hopeful that something similar will take place maybe in Texas.”
Now Schraufnagel and his colleagues are putting the finishing touches on a new book on the Cost of Voting Index, with a focus on civil rights implications. They hope to publish the book by year’s end.
“As an academic, we all would love to think our research can make a difference,” Schraufnagel says. “In so much as this seems to have done that, it’s a great thrill for me.”