Analysis

Helping VIP Work in the States

The Pew Charitable Trusts contracts with Democracy Works to provide data and engineering support for states as they produce standardized election data for inclusion in Voting Information Project (VIP) tools. Democracy Works is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the idea that voting should fit the way we live. You may know this group as the maker of TurboVote. In this guest post, Noma Thayer, data technologist for Democracy Works’ VIP team, offers insight into her role working with local elections offices around the country.

After a successful election season in 2014, VIP is looking for ways to further improve the quantity and quality of data it provides through its voting information look up tools: the Voting Information Tool; iOS and Android Apps, and a short messaging service, or SMS. Working in collaboration with the states to standardize, process, and certify official election data, such as polling place and ballot information, VIP provides the information to Google, which in turn publishes it via the Civic Information Application Programming Interface (API). 

One way VIP helps states is through on-site visits by our data team. This can be a great way for us to help elections staff learn to easily export their data. Often, we can devise a one-button process, making the transmission of official information to VIP as easy as the click of a mouse. Our visits are provided at no cost to states and are scheduled to be convenient for each elections office.

To help states provide voters with polling place and candidate information, I work with election administrators to identify the necessary data in state and local databases, and then create a record, or export, in a format that we can use to populate the various tools that voters will use to find the information they need. Going through the VIP export process can also be a great way to help counties and municipalities refine the data they are storing and sending because they will also be able to view their data in the VIP tools.

This process typically takes four to seven days. I begin by sitting down with the database administrator and learning about its structure. Next, I write the queries needed to produce VIP-formatted data exports that will contain information linking each voter’s address to the correct polling place and ballot information. You can read more about the exports here.

After we produce sample files showing polling location data tied to addresses and ballot information, if possible I use our validation scripts to look for errors.

Finally, I try to make the export process as automated as possible, either working within the state’s election management system or with outside vendors. I provide the state with an upload tool so that in the future they can send the files to VIP with the press of a button.

When the engineering team at VIP receives the exported data, they run a series of quality assurance tests. The data is published via Google’s Civic API and made available to voters through the full suite of VIP tools, as well as on websites like GettothePolls.com

State election officials interested in participating in VIP or hosting a site visit, please contact us at info@votinginfoproject.org.

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