A survey recently published by the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) takes a look at GIS adoption rates by the U.S. state election directors. The survey was conducted as part of NSGIC’s Geo-Enabled Elections project which was formed to “to strengthen the accuracy and reliability of America’s electoral system and to increase voters’ confidence that their voice is being heard in each election“.
To conduct the survey, NSGIC attempt to interview the election director (ED) and associated staff for all 50 states, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They were successful in interviewing 42% of election directors (an election director is a “state official whose primary responsibility is the administration of elections within the state”). Each ED was asked twenty-six questions focusing on: general, address management, precinct boundary and other data management, and transitioning to GIS.
The report provides a summary of responses for each of the questions asked about election related data and standards. Overall, the results of the survey indicate that most state election directors haven’t fully or even partially integrated GIS functions into how they maintain and verify the necessary information to conduct elections. This includes information such as voter address management and precinct boundaries.
Five out of six election directors interviewed stated that they are familiar with GIS and have access to a GIS expert. However, fewer than one in three could say with confidence that their voter registration system is capable of supporting GIS data. Moreover, when asked to assess their state’s degree of progress towards full integration of geospatial data in elections, the answer was four, on average, on a scale from one to ten, where ten represented full GIS integration.
Few systems currently support geospatial data types. For those few that do, they are either unused or underused at this time. There is overwhelming agreement that their systems will want to support geographic data types in the next five years.
The survey did report that most of the surveyed ED responded positively to the goal of adopting GIS at some point. Dan Ross, NSGIC President and Chief Geospatial Information Officer (GIO) for the state of Minnesota had this to say: “During the project’s first year, we’ve been encouraged to learn that while most voter data across the country is still kept in ‘address list’-style tables, many state election directors are interested in the benefits that a transition to a GIS-based approach can bring. Additionally, since most state governments have a GIO or equivalent on staff, the prospects for strengthening elections through the integration of GIS into electoral systems are very good.”