Archives For May 2013

In April we unveiled our initial thoughts for what OpenElections data might look like, and we asked for your comments. You responded, particularly in our Google Group, with suggestions and improvements. So we’re back with a new version of both election and results data, and we want your feedback.

The updated elections data spec includes a new unique identifier for an election (which we define as a date with one or more regularly scheduled or special elections within a state) as well as the adoption of the Open Civic Data Division Identifiers that we have written about. But it also asks some questions about our design and whether there are easier or cleaner ways to present the information we gather to users. Sample JSON and CSV files are available.

The revised results data spec includes additional changes since the first incarnation, particularly in regards to how we reference candidate names. Like the election data spec, there are a series of questions to consider, but we also want to know what we’ve missed or anything else that seems important to include. The results data is displayed in sample JSON and CSV files as well.

It’s important to stress that these are not the final versions of the files that OpenElections will produce. For example, we haven’t yet included standardization fields that will tie OpenElections data to other identifiers outside of political geography. But we want to get the foundation right, so we welcome your contributions. The best place to join the conversation is the Google Group, but feel free to send us an email or otherwise let us know what you’re thinking.

When we started OpenElections, one of our goals was to make sure that we used a common set of identifiers that users could rely on in the data we produce. For political jurisdictions like states and counties, that usually has meant using Federal Information Processing Standards codes, or FIPS. These are five-digit numbers assigned to individual states, counties and other locations. In the drafting of our election metadata and results formats, however, we’ve proposed adopting the Open Civic Data Division Identifiers, an open source project that seeks “to provide somewhat predictable and globally unique identifiers for political divisions of all kinds.”

One reason for doing so is that the identifiers are more descriptive than FIPS codes, including both machine and human-readable representations of states and other jurisdictions. For example, here’s North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District:


Or, at a more local level, here is Washington D.C.’s Ward 8:


Another reason to use these identifiers, as you can see, is that the OCD Division Identifiers could support data beyond the United States. While OpenElections is only focused on the results of American elections, to the extent that others may want to extend our formats to other countries it shouldn’t require large-scale changes to do so. We’ve had some great discussions of other aspects of our formats on our Google Group, and we welcome your input as we work towards releasing the second version of our election metadata and results data formats. Join in!

We had a great turnout last Saturday for our first Metadata Sprint. Volunteers joined us from cities around the country including Brooklyn, Chicago, Louisville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Phoenix – plus our bi-coastal OpenElections team hosting from D.C., San Francisco and L.A..

We worked diligently for three hours and between 13 of us collectively entered 193 elections into our system, making progress on 15 states, and almost doubling the number of elections entered so far.

Ahead of the pack were Milwaukee Journal Sentinel news app developer Allan James Vestal, with 29 elections entered, and MIT Electronics and Computer Science student and news app developer Joanna Kao, with 22 elections.

A big thank you to both of your for being OpenElections Rock Stars!


@allanjvestal                         @joannaskao

We also had lively discussions about the quirks in electoral processes in various states including stumbling across a 2011 race in Arkansas in which one person voted from the Hot Springs airport, all sorts of unusual candidate names (real and otherwise) including ‘Grand-Pa’ Goshorn in Arizona in 2010, and various colorful stories about candidates and races from the beats of reporters in the group.

We also got great feedback on our Metadata admin, and flushed out some great edge cases for the nuanced and wildly varied ways that people vote from state to state that we hadn’t accounted for in our admin. Surveying local electoral processes across the country is a very colorful and telling process. While we have a better idea of the scale of the task in front of us, we also learned that we can do it. A reminder: we still have several states up for adoption, so if you’re interested in joining the effort, let us know.

Thank you to all of you who came out! Let’s do it again soon!