Free and fair elections are the bedrock foundation of our democracy. In the United States, responsibility to administer elections is delegated to the individual states, which then support election activity at the county level. Within the state of Washington, elections are the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The Department of Elections is responsible within King County. Confidence in the fairness and accuracy of elections has been a public concern, from ‘hanging chads’ in Florida, to allegations of voter fraud, and the impact of gerrymandering.
GIS professionals and geographers understand implicitly the value of GIS in planning and administering free and fair elections. Now the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has developed and published best practices to provide explicit, uniform guidance for the implementation of GIS in elections across the country.
NSGIC’s Best Practices Guidance for the use of GIS in elections focuses on five topics:
- Convene a team of specialists, including elections leadership, GIS professionals, and database administrators.
- Collect and sustain a statewide voting unit GIS layer: This focus is on defining and displaying voting unit boundaries that work for all possible combinations of national, statewide, and local elections.
- Implement a statewide geocoding strategy: Each resident needs to be located within the correct voting unit boundaries. The report focuses on establishing consistent and cost-effective methods to assign geographic coordinates for each address.
- Assemble best available contextual GIS layers: These layers provide the locational context for voting unit boundaries in relationship to boundaries for cities, towns, and districts, as well as base maps, aerial imagery, zip codes, etc.
- Define and implement data validation processes: GIS can be a key tool to audit election data. GIS can be used to address questions like, does a candidate or voter live within the correct district.
This NSGIC report is phase one of their Geo-Enabled Elections project. It also includes an Election Director Report on the status of GIS implementation in voting system administration across the United States. This will serve as a benchmark for charting progress over the coming years.
Phase two will coincide with the completion of the 2020 Census and help states further adopt GIS as a key tool for their elections.
NSGIC promotes the coordinated, impactful, and cost-efficient application of GIS and other location-based information and analytics to best serve the nation, with emphasis on the power of initiatives and public policy that connect across local, state, federal, and private sector partners.
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