While much of the world focused on COVID-19 and election controversy, a quiet revolution was taking place behind the scenes. Despite numerous challenges, and despite sizable turnover among election staff (52% of states saw a change in election leadership 2018-2022), groups of dedicated public servants across many states were focused on modernizing elections; adopting new technology and processes to safeguard and improve elections. Often, election administrators partnered with their colleagues from state geographic information offices, in order to combine their two fields of expertise and successfully effect change.
The result: increased accuracy in voter locations, improved audits using geospatial data, real-time voter information updates, streamlined work processes, and improved transparency.
Much of this progress was documented in the recent State Election Director Report, published in the fall. More of it was on display at the NSGIC Elections GeoSummit on December 8, 2022 (recordings are available here). Two insights from that event stood out to participants:
One; many states are already working on replacing outdated voter registration systems with newer versions that are capable of using geospatial information for voter locations, voting district boundaries, and candidate locations.
Two: There is a very interesting overlap between efforts to modernize elections with GIS information and two other large endeavors taking place simultaneously: Next Generation 911 (NG9-1-1) and work to improve the National Broadband Map. While the elections space sometimes struggles to secure funding, the other two initiatives appear well resourced. Which begs the question: how can elections piggyback on work already being done to bring modernization and increased mapping accuracy in other areas?
Eighty-six percent of all U.S. states and territories participated in one way or another in the Geo-Enabled Elections project. There is no doubt that NSGIC and the project were a catalyst for the significant progress evident between 2017 and 2022. However, much work remains to be done.
Enter the NSGIC Geo-Enabled Elections and Redistricting working group. This is the forum for further learning and mutual support that will help bring about change in 2023 and through to the presidential election in 2028. The biggest challenge foreseen for states around the country? The replacement of older voter registration systems with new versions capable of using geospatial information. Eighty-nine percent of election directors surveyed in 2022 projected their states would have such systems in place by 2027, while only 39% had them in place at the time of the interviews; this according to the State Election Director Report.
The working group is co-chaired by four geospatial leaders from across the nation:
- John E. Adams, Director, Vermont Center for Geographic Information
- Greg Bunce, GIS Data Coordinator, Utah Geospatial Resource Center
- Tim Johnson, Geographic Information Officer, State of North Carolina
- Alison Slaats, Chief Geospatial Information Officer, State of Minnesota
Anyone involved professionally in elections management or GIS in a state or county in the U.S. is invited to join the working group, by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If history is any indication, this working group will effect significant change and will be a space for collaboration and learning, critical for any public servant concerned with improving elections management. And of course, tools, trainings, best practices, and other resources will continue to be available on elections.NSGIC.org.
With this, the Geo-Enabled Elections project, 2017-2022, and outgoing lead Jamie Chesser, hand off the baton and wish the working group every success in making elections better in the future.