NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project has released the findings of its recent survey of state election directors around the country. Twenty-seven election directors from among U.S. states + Washington D.C., along with two from U.S. territories, weighed in on the state of geo-enabled elections.
Respondents shed light on the use of geographic information systems (GIS) in elections, on voter registration systems, and on whether these support efforts to audit voters’ location compared to precinct and district assignments. They also provided insight on relationships and funding to support election modernization.
Overall, election directors reported some challenges. In 76% of the surveyed jurisdictions, voter registration systems do not support GIS data, meaning that ensuring voters have been placed in the right precincts and voting districts is needlessly difficult. Also, only one in five election directors stated that they work with a geographic information officer (GIO) to get needed support for voter audits and other tasks that can ensure accuracy, efficiency, and transparency in elections. Two-thirds of respondents reported not having access to, or not knowing if they have access to, a universal address list, such as data from 911 address databases or the National Address Database (NAD).
At least the last couple of challenges are somewhat easily fixable. Many states have GIOs, and NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project has worked hard to build relationships between election offices and GIOs in the past few years. It has also developed best practices to support states on the path to election modernization.
State GIOs can support election directors in identifying resources like address databases and in creating audit processes to uncover errors. For states who are not sure if they have a GIO or not, this directory can provide a starting point.
NSGIC also offers tools to help election offices with more long-term election modernization efforts: if a voter registration system is outdated and doesn’t support geo-enabling, or GIS integration, the organization shares sample requests for proposals that could assist in procuring a new one. If funding or support from a state’s legislature is needed to enshrine important processes in law or to provide funding for needed investments, NSGIC in 2021 developed sample statutory language as a starting point for the work to create state statute.
Some encouraging news was uncovered in the survey: two-thirds of responding election offices use GIS for some election-related activities, most commonly for redistricting (59%), followed by election data management and creating and maintaining point locations for registered voters (35% each) and spatial data audits to verify districts or precincts (31%).