Home > Public Domain Data > Improving election data: NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project

Improving election data: NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project

With thanks to Jamie Chesser, project lead, the Geo-Enabled Elections project, NSGIC, for this post.

The use of spatial data results in real-world consequences that help shape societal outcomes; elections perhaps most concretely so. Elections are, fundamentally, about maps, as districts determine what races voters can vote in and candidates vie for. In the last four years, a project by the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has worked with states and counties across the nation to improve the processes and refine the data sets that are used in elections. [Note: We have written about NSGIC before in this blog; see these posts].

Their main tenet: Geospatial data and GIS processes, when integrated into elections systems, make those elections more accurate, more efficient, and provide the ability to also make them more transparent.

As part of that process, data sets from other realms than elections are being deployed to audit or enhance voter rolls, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the right voters are allowed to vote and that ballots and election information can be sent to voters, without being returned to sender. 

The National Address Database, compiled and managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is one such example.

https://www.transportation.gov/gis/national-address-database [transportation.gov]

Also, states such as Montana have or are working on creating and validating their own state-wide address layer. In Montana’s case, the information will serve both elections and the state’s Next Generation 9-1-1 emergency call routing system. A third example of a data source are tax assessor offices since they typically track a site address for each parcel.

In December 2021, NSGIC surveyed election directors in US states and territories, and Washington D.C., to establish – among other things – whether most election directors have access to such an address resource within their state. Their answer was, essentially, “not yet.” About two-thirds of respondents, representing 53% of US states and Washington D.C., stated they don’t have, or don’t know if they have, access to such a universal address list. Read more here:

https://elections.nsgic.org/nsgic-survey-nations-election-directors-technology-funding-support-for-election-modernization/ [elections.nsgic.org] 

Flipping this equation on its head, some states have enshrined the use of GIS data in elections processes into state statute. Doing so supports the collaboration between GIS experts and elections division staff within a state; it can also be a way to secure funding. When statutory language is drafted, states are able to include different provisions. One such provision could be that when boundaries are set, they must be made publicly available in a spatial data format. These data help campaigns and NGOs be better informed and engage in productive dialogue, and – in the current climate of election scrutiny – they can also promote transparency, allowing organizations and individuals to verify aspects of data and processes in order to build trust.

NSGIC in 2021 released model statute language for states interested in pursuing this route; this can be found here: 

https://elections.nsgic.org/model-statutory-language-released-to-help-states-advance-gis-in-elections/ [elections.nsgic.org]

Other helpful resources for election offices and others include Best Practices Guidance for how to geo-enable elections and Tools for Election Directors, both available on the NSGIC elections website. One of the best practices, number four, deals with the use of contextual map layers:

https://elections.nsgic.org [elections.nsgic.org]

GIS is a vital part of improving election integrity, and NSGIC is leading this effort.
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