[Screenshot image via elections.nsgic.org]
The latest electionlineWeekly features a new effort – and report! – from the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) examining how states are increasingly harnessing geographic information systems (GIS) to help with election management and administration. electionline’s Mindy Moretti has more:
On a cold January evening, National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) quietly pushed the “go live” button for its new website, dedicated to helping state administrations implement GIS in elections.
The launch of the website coincided with two major accomplishments of NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project: the release of its first-year report, and the publication of the Election Director Report – a groundbreaking survey of state election directors’ take on their progress towards implementing GIS in elections.
On the new website, NSGIC offers education about why integrating GIS in elections is so important; how it helps to strengthen the accuracy and reliability of the electoral system. The site also provides concrete and helpful tools, like “Five questions election directors can ask their State GIO (Geographic Information Officer),” and sample RFPs (Requests For Proposals) for states who are in the process upgrading their voter registration systems.
“Our intent is that the site should be a great resource for states committed to deploying GIS to increase accuracy and gain efficiencies in their election data management processes,” says Molly Schar, NSGIC Executive Director, who adds: “Few state election offices in the United States today are fully GIS integrated. This poses a risk, as we have seen recently in reports from electoral contests where errors in voter placement undermined the reliability of election results, and ultimately may have hurt voter confidence.”
Ensuring that any new voter registration system is “future proof” – or capable of using GIS information – is particularly important during a time when several states are utilizing federal funds, made available through the reauthorized HAVA Act, to upgrade their voter registration systems. NSGIC’s new website / microsite offers help for states who are on that path, in the form of three sample RFP documents, which are available for download.
Tammy Patrick, senior elections advisor for Democracy Fund Voice, one of the project’s underwriters, is impressed. “The new website has something for everyone – but most importantly, the offerings are practical and actionable. Readily digestible infographics depict why you should care about GIS and how it can be used to better election administration. As a local election official I was lucky to have a stellar GIS department to work with and saw firsthand the power of GIS tools in redistricting, precincting of voters, and location of services.”
The just-released Election Director Report is also available for download from the site. Its highlights: State election directors indicate knowledge and interest in GIS technology. However, states may have a long way to go to fully utilize geospatial information in elections.
Five out of six election directors interviewed stated that they are familiar with GIS and have access to a GIS expert. That said, fewer than one in three could state with confidence that their voter registration system is capable of supporting GIS data. And when asked to assess their state’s degree of progress towards full integration of geospatial data in elections, the answer was four, on average, on a scale from one to ten, where ten represented full GIS integration.
Aside from avoiding errors, there are some compelling reasons why election directors might want to advance GIS integration as speedily as possible: Replacing cumbersome voter lists and verbal definitions of voting districts with technology that allows election officials to view voters as pinpoints on a map – and voting district boundaries as geometrical shapes that surround those pinpoints – offers some very concrete advantages. The verification that voters have, in fact, been placed into the right voting district becomes much easier, as does quality control – both as part of a periodic review and after significant changes, such as the modification of voting district boundaries.
Getting to that point, the implementation process itself, might be the biggest challenge. There, too, NSGIC can help. As part of its first-year report, the organization published five draft best practices for how states may go about enhancing election accuracy using GIS. These are, in headline form:
- Convene a Team of Specialists
- Collect and Sustain a Statewide Voting Unit GIS Layer
- Adopt and Implement a Statewide Geocoding Strategy
- Assemble and Provide Best Available Contextual GIS Layers
- Define and Implement Data Validation Processes
The project’s next steps include further refining those best practices through a series of six case studies from states already using GIS in elections, as well as through five state-wide pilot studies among states working to expand their GIS integration, all to be completed by September of this year.
The Geo-Enabled Elections project, phase one, runs from October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2019. Phase two (pending funding) will continue to support the expansion and use of GIS in states’ electoral systems. NSGIC, or the National States Geographic Information Council, is a state-led organization for developing, exchanging, and endorsing geospatial technology and policy best practices.
To view the Geo-Enabled Elections project website, go to elections.NSGIC.org.
GIS has been a core element of election redistricting for decades; it’s good to see NSGIC help election officials discover how powerful such technology can be on the election administration side of “the business” as well. Thanks as always to Mindy for sharing this story – I can’t wait to see what else comes of the Geo-Enabled Elections Project in 2019 and beyond. Stay tuned!