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.
Washington state currently performs audits by uploading voter locations from all counties, converted to a GIS format where necessary, and comparing them with district boundaries, also in a GIS format, to automatically flag up discrepancies. Correcting any errors may then be done either in the voter’s individual record or in the county’s address file.
Overall, finding and correcting districting errors has become much easier than before, thanks to GIS, and data quality has improved compared to the old street-file system. The upcoming redistricting, following the 2020 Census, is also expected to be much easier than in the past. With GIS, the new district boundaries can simply be imported and all impacted voters will be automatically re-assigned to their new voting districts.
Washington state election administrators benefit from being able to use the Washington Master Address System (WAMAS) and other tools and data from the Geospatial Program Office. Other key stakeholders in the project have been County Auditors and state IT professionals.