Archives For July 2013


By Sandra Fish

Gathering information about election results in the 50 states can be tricky business. There are at least 50 different ways states collect and put out this data – and probably more.

Working on a few Western states makes me love Idaho, where spreadsheets with results for every county by precinct are available back to 1990.

Go Idaho!

But in almost every instance, it pays to reach out and ask questions. A quick phone call to state board of elections staffers usually gets a suggestion to send an email with those questions. In Idaho, for instance, we needed details about primaries. The state first had a closed primary just last year, and we needed verification that all primaries back to 2000 were open.

In other instances, it’s worth contacting the state board of elections and seeking out the information behind the PDFs that so many states are seeking. I’ve used the list of questions Serdar Tumgoren put together.

Consider Wyoming, where Excel results are available for 2010 and 2012 but the other years are PDFs.

When asked what software they used to compile results, Wyoming officials replied, “Excel.” When asked if they’d make Excel files available, this was the initial response: “No, Our office has a policy to offer the results in PDF format on-line only.”

Time for a public records request?

So I headed over to the automatic letter generator offered by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Like Idaho, it rocks! I wrote the letter, downloaded, and pasted it in an email to my contact in Wyoming on June 29. They replied July 8.

On July 12, they emailed me the zipped files.

Hooray, public records requests!

There are a few hangups – the 2006 files are corrupt, so the PDF files will have to do. And the 2000 files were made with QuatroPro, a spreadsheet program you youngsters won’t be familiar with. But I suspect a little googling will turn up a conversion answer. So I’m well on my way!

Happy metadata (and data) gathering!

Sandra Fish is an experienced independent journalist based in Boulder, Colorado, specializing in politics, government and data reporting.


For those volunteers who might like a bit more clarification before digging into the Metadata entry process, or for those who would like a refresher to be sure they are entering election results correctly, we have created a screencast to walk you through the process. You will see examples of more straightforward and more idiosyncratic state board of elections web sites and pointers for how you can identify the relevant information for each. You will also see an explanation of our project admin system, what information we are looking for, and how you can verify information about an election.

If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at or ask them on our Google Group.

If you’d like to join us and volunteer, we have 2 states left to be adopted: SD and UT. Learn more about volunteering here!

Thank you Sprinters!

July 1, 2013

We had a great turnout last Saturday for our second Metadata Sprint. Joining the OpenElections team based in LA, San Francisco and DC were journalists and developers from Austin, Boulder, Chicago, DC, and Madison.

Between 8 of us, we entered 120 elections into our system, significantly closing the gap on our metadata gathering progress. In fact we now have only four states left to be adopted – LA, MS, SD, and UT. More on joining in here.

Our sprint winner this time was Texas Tribune software engineer Chris Chang.


A big thank you to Chris and everyone else who helped out on Saturday!