State election officials interested, but slow to adopt geospatial data
Published: February 05, 2019
NSGIC has released findings from its first-ever survey of state election directors determining the status of GIS in elections.
The National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) has just released findings in a new report that examine the status of GIS technology in elections. The report is a part of the organization’s Geo-Enabled Elections project, an initiative aiming to assist states and election authorities in implementing GIS technology in elections to ensure voters are placed in the right voting district, receive the right ballot, and vote in the right electoral contests.
NSGIC surveyed state election directors to ascertain where these technologies are being used and how far along they are, as well as to provide a look ahead at how GIS integration into election systems may play out. According to findings in the report, state election directors indicate that there is interest and knowledge in GIS technology, however most states have a long way to go to fully utilized GIS information in elections. Of those surveyed, 83% are at least familiar with GIS or have access to an expert on the technology, but much smaller numbers, less than one-third of survey respondents, are using systems that are capable of supporting GIS data. Considering that there have been instances where incorrectly districted voters affect election outcomes, this is an issue that can have real-world consequences.
Despite this low usage, elections officials are largely interested in and motivated to make better use of GIS technology for elections. Indeed, the technology is used in other areas of government. An earlier NSGIC survey found that a majority of respondents, 82%, use GIS technologies for city and county lines, school district boundaries, and public utility services areas. The Geo-Enable Elections project is pushing for greater dialogue between Geographic Information Officers and Election Officials, and developing best practices for states to utilize GIS data to ensure election are effective and accurate. The projects next steps are to launch a pilot program using GIS in a state election office and publish a case study examining a state that has successfully incorporated GIS in an election.
Given the importance of running secure and accurate elections, GIS technology could be another tool employed to improve election administration in the coming years. Although usage was limited at this point, NSGIC officials are encouraged by state election directors’ interest in the technology, and it may be worth watching if and how this technology is further adopted in the future.