CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Vote Mirages in the 2020 Election: How Vote-By-Mail Policies Impact the Reporting of Election Results

Bayley Tuch, University of Pennsylvania

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Stephen Pettigrew

Date of this Version: 31 March 2021



As Americans went to bed on November 3rd, 2020, it appeared our country was heading towards a second term for President Donald Trump. He was leading in many of the important swing states that Joe Biden would eventually win. Trump's disproportionate lead in these states early in the vote count, also called a red mirage, became the subject of scrutiny in the weeks and months following the election. In this thesis, I aim to understand how vote-by-mail (VBM) policies impacted the reporting of election results and caused vote mirages. To evaluate whether VBM policies had an impact, I analyzed timestamped vote reports in the week following the election as well as states' policies regarding access to and counting of mail ballots. I show that states that began pre-processing ballots on Election Day were likely to have red mirages while states with universal access to mail voting were likely to have blue mirages. These results suggest that the misinformation and claims of fraud that were fueled by the mirages could be addressed by reevaluating the policies governing VBM – especially in swing states – or by better preparing the public for the potential for vote mirages in the future.


American Politics

Suggested Citation

Tuch, Bayley, "Vote Mirages in the 2020 Election: How Vote-By-Mail Policies Impact the Reporting of Election Results" 31 March 2021. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 29 April 2021




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