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Insight from Esri on how maps are making elections smarter
Lori Castle

Lori Castle

This year’s U.S. presidential election is unlike any other in modern history — and not because of who’s running. Location-based technology is mobilizing citizens and real-time election maps are instigating votes.

In today’s political climate, citizen engagement is more influential than ever and much of the interaction is taking place in the digital world.  The power of the people starts with the mobile devices in their hands and this technology is driving new expectations.

The demand for real-time election information, starting with learning about the candidate through the voting process to results reporting, is creating the demand for smarter elections and GIS tech provider Esri is answering the call.

“Outbound communication around elections has become critical,” says Christopher Thomas, Director, Esri Government Markets. Candidates, local and state governments are all trying to leverage the latest geographic and mapping solutions to better inform and motivate citizens, thereby changing election outcomes.

As a HERE partner, Esri layers HERE data on its GIS platform so both the public and private sectors can easily create apps to enable a full gamut of election processes including volunteer recruiting; voter registration; polling place locators and site selections and navigation; voting district and early voting management; redistricting; and election history tracking and election night reporting.

“The platform includes instructions and codes that can easily be modified and populated with the data of an organization,” says Christopher. “The key to the solution is standardization. Users must have the same experience from one election to another.”

Election maps in action

As the counties go, so do the states and much of the technology adoption is happening at the county levels where we have seen both failures and successes this year with extremely high turnouts in many of the primaries thus far.

With only one polling location for 19,000 voters in Merrimack, New Hampshire, the town decided to reroute traffic to streamline expected turnout. Perhaps they should have left that task to technology as there were traffic jams where reportedly cars only moved one mile in 90 minutes.

Voters in Maricopa County in Arizona waited upwards of five hours as the situation there was unmanageable after a move to reduced costs resulted in a reduction of the number of polling places by 70 per cent from 2012 to 2016.

On the other hand, Collin County, Texas has had tremendous results with its election polling places finder application — including 174K pageviews, 20K visits to the app and 27K routes generated from the mobile app.

“Rerouting people on their way to polling places with long wait times is a next level user experience,” says Christopher. “Technology is helping improve logistical voting decisions.”

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Viewing the vote

Election maps have long been used by the media, but were once flat and static. As visualization has evolved, maps are bringing elections to life and showing real-time results.

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image credit: 4President.org

As Christopher says, “Maps used to be a nice to have in elections, now they are a must have.”

Election maps powered by data provide a more accurate view of results, providing a deeper, responsive view of voter patterns and trends.  Here’s an example from 2012.

(Click the map to go to the full platform.)

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image credit: Esri

Election monitoring can also be incorporated into election apps and maps. For example, using the Esri platform, Fairfax County, Virginia shared results every 10 minutes and averaged 800 visitors per hour.

Get out the vote

According to Christopher, you can be sure that many candidates are now using GIS for things like canvassing, outreach and particularly when looking for swing voters by neighborhood. They can send alerts to constituents reminding people to vote and provide them all the information they need to do, in just one click.

Real-time election coverage can encourage action in another way as well, by playing to a voter’s sense of civic duty, or simply a competitive nature. Christopher says, “As results come in from a polling place, you can see in real time why your vote matters.”

For more about how GIS can influence elections, read Esri’s post on “Eight Ways Communities Can Make Elections Smarter.”

If only the technology could make the candidates smarter too.