Elections produce a lot of data—for example Pew’s recent report describing these many data points, Election Administration by the Numbers. Those data, of course, tell us who won and who lost, but they also provide insight into the nuts and bolts of how elections are run. Collecting thorough data, however, can be challenging for states where decentralized election systems can comprise hundreds of jurisdictions.
In 2008, Wisconsin developed an innovative model—the Wisconsin Election Data Collection System (WEDCS)—to overcome these barriers and collect complete data. Wisconsin has one of the most complex and decentralized systems of any state in the country with 1,851 election jurisdictions at most recent count.
State law requires the Government Accountability Board (GAB), which is responsible for elections, to collect a certain amount of data after each election. Prior to 2008, municipal clerks would fill out a paper survey and mail or fax election data into the GAB. Not surprisingly, the board never received data from every jurisdiction.
To better collect data, the GAB created WEDCS, which put the form online and created a direct portal between every election jurisdiction and Madison.
The system was completed in 2010, and, since then, the GAB has seen response rates of 100 percent. This has helped with compiling official election results, researching and discovering trends, and providing all stakeholders—interest groups, political parties, researchers, and members of the public—with complete and timely elections data.