Monday, January 07, 2008

Map and Analyze US Presidential Election Incidents in Real-Time

As the presidential election season begins, the coming year promises a series of primaries, caucuses and straw polls, culminating in a general election in November. Local and regional watchdog organizations will be monitoring and reporting on the integrity of these democratic activities. Next week, Philadelphia will inaugurate a new mayor and city council. The election that ushered them into office was monitored by the Philadelphia-based Committee of Seventy, which turned to Avencia Incorporated, an award-winning, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and software development company to help geographically record, map, and analyze election day incidents in real-time, for the first time in the 103 years of Committee of Seventy. That day the reported incidents ranged from innocuous to downright bizarre.

The Philadelphia-based Committee of Seventy conducts the oldest and largest regional voter protection program in America, the Election Oversight Program. On Election Day, Committee of Seventy works with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to coordinate this program whereby election irregularities are monitored and registered through the combined efforts of volunteers and staff at a command center in parallel with teams of lawyers and more than four hundred volunteers deployed throughout the city at 1,076 polling places.

The primary challenge of incorporating GIS into this endeavor was to create a system that would enable both quick recording of incidents and real-time map generation. Avencia’s experience with GIS technologies and thorough knowledge of the political landscape came handy to tackle the challenge of creating a variety of maps throughout the day, including not just point maps showing individual incidents, but also aggregations by larger political boundaries indicating both relative numbers of incidents and proportions of different types of incidents.

Jonathan David, Committee of Seventy's Election Program Coordinator, noted that the maps were particularly important to "management staff and senior-level volunteers who needed to understand problematic trends citywide, ward-wide and district-wide- as they developed - so teams could respond quickly." This trial run has proved to be very successful, leading Committee of Seventy and Avencia to use this experience to plan a more automated, web-based application that they hope to deploy for the 2008 presidential primaries and elections

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