How GIS fortifies election information
Geographic information systems can help election directors speed up voter information verification processes and expand data collection capacities.
A recent report from the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) illustrates how using geographic information systems can help secure election data management.
The NSGIC's Geo-Enabled Elections project has worked the last four years to help state and local election officials integrate GIS tools into their election data management systems. The October report includes input from 28 state and territory election directors detailing how GIS has improved election procedures since the 2018 election.
“By using GIS, election officials can ensure candidates meet district residency requirements and that voters are assigned to the right voting district, receive the right ballot, and vote in the right electoral contests,” NSGIC officials said in the report. “Geo-enabling election systems also saves time and helps officials avoid location errors for both candidates and voters.”
This geographic accuracy is critical to restoring voter trust – it reduces the opportunities for mistakes to slip through that can affect the election process. In recent years, misinformation has fueled public mistrust in the elections process, but “fewer errors reported after an election increases voter confidence which, in turn, makes voters feel their voices are being heard in every election,” the report said.
GIS allows elections officials to capture real-time changes in voter registration status or addresses in voter files, the report stated. In 2018, 61% of 23 respondents conducted daily updates of their registration rolls, and others reported updating information as needed. In 2022, 50% of the 28 election directors said they use real-time updates, suggesting there is more focus on maintaining accurate and timely voter data, the report said.
Additionally, GIS tools may help officials conduct more election audits that verify voters’ addresses, assigned precincts and election district boundaries. The 2022 report showed that 57% of election directors reported auditing voter address agreement with election geography assignments compared with 26% in 2018.
However, the report noted that most officials do not conduct GIS-supported spatial audits to verify voter or candidate locations. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they did not conduct spatial audits, and 7% said they did so irregularly.
Another area that has not seen much change was in the use of GIS in voter registration systems. Just 39% of election directors said their VRS have geospatial capacities, and even then not all report actively using it, the report found. However, 89% of respondents said their VRS will support GIS solutions within the next five years as more election directors understand the benefits to geo-enabled elections.
Rural election directors expressed frustration over the lack of available GIS resources such as expertise, software, training or funding, the report found. NSGIC said election officials should connect with their state and local geographic information officers to uncover partnership possibilities and tap into staff and funding resources, which may help expand GIS capacity.
“There is a thirst within the state election offices to try new things, to identify and learn new processes and practices that make them more efficient, and to be innovative as they strive to improve election data management operations,” the report said.
NEXT STORY: Failure is inevitable, so why not learn from it?