Filtered by category: Elections Clear Filter

First County - Maricopa, Arizona - Shares Lessons Learned From Geo-Enabling Elections

Maricopa County, Arizona, was focused on data accuracy and data management efficiency when work started to geo-enable their elections. This is understandable; the county, which envelopes one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States, Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, was seeing many of the challenges of rapid growth first-hand, including new residential areas, the annexation of land by cities, and the addition of many new voters.

Those efficiency benefits have been realized, in spades, now, some 15 years later. To give one example: changing the old, tabular records to reflect new district boundaries – as happens during redistricting – could take hundreds of hours. Now, changing one boundary to a different one can be done in minutes. Similarly, a legal description for a new voting district can also be created in minutes.

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More States to Integrate Mapping Technology into Elections Systems as NSGIC Project Moves into Second Phase

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has been awarded $300,000 by the bipartisan Democracy Fund Voice organization for the second phase of NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project. This continues a national effort by state government geospatial information officers and coordinators to work with other state agencies, local elections officials and state elections offices, national GIS (geographic information system) and elections organizations, and federal partners to identify opportunities to leverage this powerful technology to strengthen elections management and citizen engagement.

“As an organization made up of GIS leaders in state government, NSGIC is uniquely positioned to leverage the innovative work of states to use GIS for elections data. We have enlisted those innovators to contribute and advise throughout the project. Collaboration has been key to the success of the project. Relationships built in the first phase of the project will be invaluable to the work of the second phase as the project seeks to increase engagement and, ultimately, impact,” said Molly Schar, NSGIC Executive Director.

The Geo-Enabled Elections project was launched in October 2017 and will now continue for an additional two years. The project aims to help strengthen electoral systems by supporting states in the adoption of GIS. Concretely, this means encouraging state governments to replace non-spatial ‘address file’ systems with election precinct and voter data in a GIS format, leveraging that format’s inherent visual and analytical advantages.

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NSGIC Releases Best Practices for Improving America’s Elections

Two-year project delivers concrete guidance for how states can increase the accuracy and efficiency of elections using geographic information systems (GIS) technology

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) released Best Practices for Geo-Enabling Elections, aimed at decision-makers in elections management across the nation, Monday. The guidance, developed in collaboration with ten states and subject matter experts from both elections and GIS fields, is the result of a two-year project focused on reducing election errors.

“You could say this project is about getting the right ballot to the right voter,” says Molly Schar, NSGIC’s executive director. “Even in a democracy as old as ours, this doesn’t always happen. Voters are occasionally placed in the wrong voting district by mistake, and then given the wrong ballot. As a result, unfortunately, election results are questioned, sometimes with legal battles and expensive election do-overs as a consequence. Strengthening the accuracy and efficiency of our electoral system, on the other hand, will ultimately increase voters’ confidence that their voices are being heard.”

Geospatial technology is a solution to the problem of voters being accidentally assigned to the wrong voting district. In the same way that many of us use maps on our phones to navigate to unfamiliar locations, election authorities can “pin” voters on electronic maps, and thereby ensure voters are automatically allocated to the right voting districts or precincts and given the right ballot to vote. The technology becomes particularly valuable when voting district boundaries are redrawn, such as after the upcoming 2020 Census. With voters as“pins” on a digital map, digital renditions of the new district boundaries can simply be overlaid over those pins,and voters automatically sorted into the right district.

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Thriving Elections, Boundary Management in Focus at Elections GeoSummit

On August 14, 85 leaders in elections management and GIS, representing 15 states, converged at The Eaton, Washington D.C., to share leading-edge findings and craft best practices to enhance the nation’s election system using GIS. With the 2020 Census on the horizon, followed by redistricting, boundary management was a key topic. How do states and other election authorities ensure that each voter votes in the right electoral contests, on an on-going basis, but particularly following redistricting?

A large part of the answer lies in leveraging the key technology that NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project is focused on; integrating GIS in election systems across the nation to increase election accuracy and efficiency, while avoiding costly mistakes and do-overs.

The Elections GeoSummit represented the culmination of the Geo-Enabled Elections project’s work to date and featured panel discussions with participants in the project’s five pilot studies and five case studies. In addition, the summit included a highly anticipated presentation of the project’s draft best practices to enhance elections with GIS. A publication of the final best practices will follow in September.

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Geo-Enabled Elections News: Case Study #5- Hawaii

Our use of GIS in elections started with redistricting. GIS was used very effectively by our State Reapportionment Commission in 2001 and 2011. They used GIS to balance district populations and to create a series of paper maps showing the new district boundaries. In 2011 they also published online maps so the public could more easily see where the new boundaries were being drawn.

After redistricting, each of our counties needed to create new precincts and correctly assign voters to these new precincts. The voter management system in use at that time used street segments and address ranges to assign voters to precincts. Without GIS, this was an intensive manual process to examine the streets and determine the new address ranges for the new precincts.

The rest of the case study is available now!

NSGIC Announces Keynote Speaker Meagan Wolfe at First-Ever Elections GeoSummit, August 14, Washington, DC

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has announced Meagan Wolfe, Administrator, Wisconsin Elections Commission, will be the keynote speaker at the Elections GeoSummit, on August 14, 2019, in Washington, DC.

The Elections GeoSummit brings together the nation’s leaders in elections management and geographic information systems (GIS) to share leading-edge findings and craft best practices to enhance election systems through 2020 and beyond. The event represents the culmination of NSGIC’s two-year Geo-Enabled Elections project, and features agenda highlights including learnings and best practices from states working to integrate GIS in Elections.

“Leveraging GIS in our electoral systems increases accuracy and efficiency in elections,” says Molly Schar, NSGIC Executive Director. “It ensures every voter has a chance to vote in the right electoral contests. It also makes election management systems easier to update as our physical environment changes through new development, or after the redrawing of boundaries, as occurs through re-districting,” she adds.

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Geo-Enabled Elections News: Case Study #4- North Carolina

Several years ago, we began using GIS data to help our one hundred county boards of elections audit their district assignments for state jurisdictions. These district assignments included county boundaries, precinct boundaries, congressional districts, state legislative districts, and state judicial districts. We compiled GIS data (address points and district boundaries) from several state sources such as our state’s legislative body, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the North Carolina Geodetic Survey to configure our audit tools.

Our agency provides our county boards of elections with two types of audits, the Interactive GEO Points Map Audit and the Weekly GIS Jurisdictions Audit.

The rest of the case study is available now!

Geo-Enabled Elections News from Washington State: Third Study Reminds Us All Data is Local

Washington state began its Elections Modernization project in 2014, with the aim to improve their election management system. The implementation of GIS became a key tenet of that project, which is currently underway.

Once complete, officials hope that GIS in elections will lead to not only increased efficiency and the assurance that each voter has the opportunity to vote in all the races they are eligible for, but also enable higher-order election functionality, such as same-day registration and automatic registration of all eligible voters.

Throughout the project, the team has relied on data from the state’s counties. Elevating data from many local sources has the benefit that it originates with those who know the areas the best – all data is local, one might say. However, it also involves the challenge that the data comes in different formats and needs translating to work together. In addition, some areas, like tribal lands, may use more approximate locations for voters. Finally, it was found that some counties use their own renditions of boundaries, which may not align with a neighboring county’s version of the same boundaries. The Elections Modernization project is tackling the task of ensuring that all borders align.

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Second Geo-Enabled Elections Case Study: Wisconsin Identifies Data Quality and Auditing as Critical to Success

Wisconsin’s elections are fully geo-enabled, after a conversion process that started in 2011. The state had concluded that implementing GIS would make the process of assigning voters to the right districts, following the 2010 census and redistricting, more efficient and accurate.

The Wisconsin team’s biggest challenge by far turned out to be the quality of available data – both for voter addresses and for district shapefiles (the geospatial data format that defines geography). While data has improved significantly over time, finding sources of high-quality data to use for auditing and quality control remains a concern, and the team shares some of the approaches considered and used.

The initial step towards integrating GIS in the election process involved running all existing addresses through a commercial geocoder to determine their X and Y coordinates. Next, by comparing this spatial data to district maps, certain issues were automatically flagged for review. While this created a considerable workload for local officials, there were also potential issues that the system at that time was unable to automatically identify, such as voter address points located in the middle of a street.

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First Case Study Released: Utah Shares Its Experience Integrating GIS in Elections

Utah had long considered integrating GIS data into its election processes, but it was the 2010 census that prompted the state to take action. Election administrators had observed that the changing of political boundaries at any level tended to expose the shortcomings of the old list-based system. At the same time, the state was committed to ensuring that in each election, the right ballot would be sent to the right voter – and it wanted the ability to accomplish that goal with a minimum of administrative effort. As a result, the lieutenant governor’s office initiated a project to implement GIS in Utah’s electoral system, in order to make “redistricting” easier ahead of the 2012 election.

This background offers insight into NSGIC’s first case study aimed at refining its recommended best practices for states committed to integrating GIS in elections. Utah was one of the first states to geo-enable their elections. In the case study, Utah Director of Elections Justin Lee shares some other key perspectives, for instance:

  • It’s helpful to have an influential sponsor, who can rally the many different stakeholders
  • It’s important to have an open and honest discussion up front, and secure alignment
  • The election data management system in use must be capable of handling GIS data
  • Data reliability can be expected to improve over time, with multiple levels of checking and with changes to some current processes

Utah certainly followed the first of NSGIC’s draft best practices and formed a multi-disciplinary team to lead the effort and to identify specifications, design system changes and interfaces, develop and test those changes, train their user community, and finally release the finished product to the user base.

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Five Statewide Pilot Studies Launched to Further Geo-Enabled Elections

On March 4, NSGIC launched five state-wide pilot studies across the nation, when state geographic information officers (GIOs) and election directors (EDs) from Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia came together with subject matter experts to develop plans for their respective three-month pilot projects.

Each state is committed to furthering the use of GIS in elections, and the pilot studies are designed to support and record their experience as they tackle select next steps on that path.

Says Jamie Chesser, geospatial programs manager at NSGIC: “It was a historic moment to have so many key stakeholders from five states in the same room laying out plans and collaborating on how to overcome obstacles to making elections better with GIS. All of these states are motivated to take advantage of the increased efficiency and risk reduction that using GIS in elections offers, and are at various stages of implementation. We very much appreciate them participating in this pilot study and then sharing their learnings, for the benefit of other states.”

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NSGIC Releases Groundbreaking Survey of Election Directors' Take on Their Progress towards Implementing GIS in Elections

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has released their findings from a first-ever survey of the nation’s state election directors, seeking to determine the current status of the implementation of GIS in elections. A number of states have championed the use of this technology in recent years to strengthen the accuracy and reliability of their electoral systems, and NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project was created to assist states and other election authorities in this process.

According to the new Election Director Report, state election directors indicate knowledge and interest in GIS technology. However, the report’s findings also suggest that most states 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 GIS and have access to a GIS expert. However, fewer than one in three could say with confidence that their voter registration system is capable of supporting GIS data. Moreover, 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.

“We’re very encouraged by the interest and enthusiasm we’ve encountered among election directors,” says Molly Schar, NSGIC Executive Director, who adds: “Few state election offices in the United States are fully GIS integrated. However, election directors, on the whole, are motivated to deploy the technology to increase accuracy and gain efficiencies in their election data management processes.”

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NSGIC Releases First-Year Report for Geo-Enabled Elections Project, Including First Draft of Best Practices for Implementing GIS in Elections

National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has released the first-year report of phase one of its Geo-Enabled Elections project, highlighting the project’s accomplishments in the first twelve months. These include completing a baseline assessment of how far states have come, to date, in terms of integrating geographic information systems (GIS) with electoral systems, as well as assembling a team of leaders and experts to help guide the project. The project team has also facilitated conversations with a wide range of stakeholder groups, aimed at raising awareness of the importance of using geospatial technology to increase reliability and accuracy in elections.

“During this first year, we’ve been encouraged to learn that while most voter data across the country is still kept in ‘address file’ tables, many state election directors are interested in the benefits that GIS can bring. Additionally, since most state governments have a geographic information officer (GIO) or equivalent on staff, the prospects for strengthening elections through the integration of GIS into electoral systems are very good.” says Dan Ross, NSGIC President and GIO for the State of Minnesota.

As part of the Geo-Enabled Elections project, NSGIC has been able to help build stronger connections between state officials responsible for the electoral system and state-level GIS subject matter experts, a critical first step towards the successful implementation of GIS in elections.

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NSGIC State Representatives Share How Elections Systems Work in Their States

NSGIC state reps survey geo-enabled elections

More than two-thirds of states responded to a nationwide survey on elections data conducted in the first half of 2018. Responses were coordinated by state government representatives who focus on the development and deployment of mapping data and systems across state agencies and local governments.

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Midyear Meeting Takeaways for the Geo-Enabled Elections Project

NSGIC's Midyear Meeting - held last month in Salt Lake City - was an extremely productive time for the Geo-Enabled Elections project. Our steering group met in person for the first time, we held a four-hour workshop for conference participants, including state and federal government representatives, sponsors and other partners, and we ended the week with a well-attended plenary session.

Workshop Outcomes

Steering Group Workshop

The 13 members of the steering group met for a pre-conference workshop and identified a short list of best-practice areas to position a state for geo-enabling their elections system. These initial items are:
  • Statewide precinct layer with an associated maintenance process
  • Current statewide address info
  • Implementation options that give local control for locating address data
  • Standardization of terminology
  • System or process where GIS technologies and data are locally sourced and rolled up to the state
  • Contextual map data (for example, current aerial photography)

General Workshop

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Geo-Enabled Election Project Gathers Momentum

When I joined the NSGIC staff a month ago as the geospatial programs manager, I learned very quickly that NSGIC is all about collaboration. This was great news to me because my focus in the next two years will be on the Geo-Enhanced Elections project, and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration!

GIS is relatively new to state elections implementations, though we are aware of several successful state implementations. When complete, a full GIS integration with a state election management system creates a map-based model of all the geographic features that interact in the election process and its results: district, precinct and ballot area boundaries; voter residence locations; polling places and drop-off locations; and address-based presentation of elected officials. The GIS digital model can significantly enhance accuracy, transparency, and efficiency of our representative government.

The Geo-Enabled Elections project fits within NSGIC’s “sweet spot” of working together to advance valuable state GIS capabilities through coordination, collaboration, communication and subject matter expertise support.

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NSGIC Launches "Geo-Enabled Elections" Project to Enhance Elections Management with Geospatial Data & Technology

Today, the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) announced a two-year project dubbed “Geo-Enbled Elections” Project to boost state-led efforts to standardize the application of geographic information systems (GIS) to support elections management and engagement between office holders and their constituents. These essential upgrades will benefit voters by increasing political boundary precision—so they know with certainty who represents them and what will be on their ballots each election.

The Geo-Enabled Elections Project will compile and promote best practices for the use of GIS to develop and sustain a map-based digital database to support state election offices that contains:

  • State, municipal, and local service district boundaries
  • Voting precinct boundaries, precinct assignments, and polling places
  • Constituent service areas to connect residents to elected officials, government services, public notices, and other location specific information

“The information systems behind our elections process can benefit greatly from integrating precise, authoritative geographic data. This has never been more important, as it will enhance efficiency and integrity while laying the groundwork to better connect constituents with their representatives and available government services” said NSGIC Executive Director Molly Schar. “In partnership with the bipartisan Democracy Fund Voice, we will be working to dramatically enhance the quality, efficiency, and collective trust in election systems in states across the country.”

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