Return to Vol. 3 Issue 3, June 2008

Online Real-Time Election Incident Mapping: When, Where, What, How … Instantaneously

By in Vol. 3 Issue 3, June 2008

Committee of Seventy’s Election Oversight Program. This April, Pennsylvania’s unusually hotly-contested presidential primary provided a backdrop for a new and improved incident mapping project – this time moved from the desktop to the web.

With the expectation of higher-than-usual voter turnout and a large number of newly registered voters, Committee of Seventy and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law anticipated a busy day in their hotline command center. While the desktop-created maps Azavea prepared in November were very helpful, they had limited utility on the ground, as incidents were unfolding. They hoped that a web-based mapping application would enable closer to real-time analysis and enable volunteers to access incident information from the field.

With funding from the William Penn Foundation, the Committee of Seventy and Azavea were able to design and build a proof-of-concept application to address some of the basic needs of the Election Oversight Program. Using a mix of open source software tools including Google Maps, Open Layers, GeoServer and PostGIS (read the article on PostGIS below), we built an application that enabled rapid data entry as incident information was received and easy search by incident types. Without time to build the full functionality we’d eventually like to see in this application, we continued to use the ArcView-based system to create aggregated maps showing the number of incidents in each ward, State House, and State Senate District.

April 22nd was a busy day for volunteers and Azavea staff at the command center, with well over 400 incidents reported (more than three times the calls fielded during last November’s general election). Interspersed among calls to inquire about polling place locations were numerous complaints of missing registrations and registrations mysteriously showing a new party affiliation, people unable to vote because someone else had already voted in their name, and a few voters who felt intimidated by poll workers or campaign volunteers. With the website projected on the command center wall, each new incident added a little color and another interesting bit of information illustrating Philadelphia’s primary election.