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.
Among the challenges identified was the variability of resources at the county level, along with the need to run both the old and the new system in parallel for some time, as additional counties came on stream.