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Did a Research Project Cross Line Into Election Advocacy?

October 24, 2014

State officials in Montana and administrators at Stanford University are looking into whether a project by researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth College may have inappropriately deceived voters, the Associated Press reported. Some voters in Montana received a flyer in the mail this week -- which looked to many like official election material because it contained the state seal -- that rated judicial candidates on a scale of "more liberal" to "more conservative."

The mailer was sent by researchers at Stanford and Dartmouth as part of an experiment of whether residents are more likely to vote if they have more information about candidates. The AP article quotes Montana's secretary of state, Linda McCullough, as saying she believes the researchers "actually crossed the line from research into influencing voters." A spokeswoman for Stanford, Lisa Lapin, told the news service: "We are taking this very seriously.... We sincerely apologize to those voters and we apologize to the secretary of state for the confusion."

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Doug Lederman

Doug Lederman is editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed. He helps lead the news organization's editorial operations, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Doug speaks widely about higher education, including on C-Span and National Public Radio and at meetings and on campuses around the country, and his work has appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. Doug was managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education from 1999 to 2003. Before that, Doug had worked at The Chronicle since 1986 in a variety of roles, first as an athletics reporter and editor. He has won three National Awards for Education Reporting from the Education Writers Association, including one in 2009 for a series of Inside Higher Ed articles he co-wrote on college rankings. He began his career as a news clerk at The New York Times. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated in 1984 from Princeton University. Doug lives with his wife, Kate Scharff, in Bethesda, Md.

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