Most election offices that implement GIS experience benefits from the technology’s accuracy and ease of use. Hawaii, however, also experienced the benefit of being able to adjust voter services when homes with outstanding ballots were impacted by a volcano eruption and its lava flow.
But to start from the beginning; Hawaii first used GIS in elections when the state developed new maps following redistricting, in 2001 and 2011. In 2011, the State Reapportionment Commission published those maps online, so the public could see where the new boundaries were being drawn. GIS was also used to more effectively determine the new address ranges and voter assignments resulting from those new boundaries.
Then, in 2015, Hawaii was ready for the next big step towards fully geo-enabling their elections: a new voter registration system that supported online voter registration and also used GIS pinpoints for all valid addresses in the state.
Each county remains responsible for verifying and adding new address points as the physical environment changes. What doesn’t change, however, is a focus on security. New tools mean that new forms of analyses and visuals become available, and the state is constantly weighing the benefits of sharing against potential security risks.
While Hawaii’s main piece of advice to other states is: “test thoroughly,” it can also be considered a forerunner on how to use GIS in elections for disaster management. As lava was flowing from an erupting volcano, election administrators were able to overlay a GIS file of the flow onto voter maps, determine how many ballots were still outstanding from impacted households, in order to then decide whether additional voting locations were needed to ensure voters could exercise their right to vote.
If you missed any of the other case studies – Utah, Wisconsin, Washington State, North Carolina – click here to catch up.