For the past two months, the Arizona Capitol Times and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting have sifted through the more than 2.3 million votes cast in the 2012 election, with the goal of offering readers a deeper understanding of how Arizona voted. From close races, like the fight over Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, to strange voting patterns in Colorado City, our “Mapping the Vote” project showed why some races turned out as they did, what factors led to victories or defeats and how some of the details in the election results can say a lot more about groups of voters than simply who they elected. But something else became clear during the project. While this type of analysis takes a lot of time and resources, it shouldn’t be made more difficult because of inconsistencies in the way the data is organized and structured — or because of how state and county election officials make data available.
The majority of Arizona’s 15 counties used one election data reporting system, but not all of them. The result was data organized differently enough to prevent statewide analysis for certain types of election data.
In a state that saw high numbers of provisional votes cast, for example, variations in the way provisional ballot data was organized stifled a comparative analysis across all counties.
Even within the reporting system used by most counties, there were variations in how final canvass reports were structured, while still meeting the state’s reporting requirements.
Sean Greene, the election initiatives research manager at Pew Charitable Trusts, argues that structuring election data in a uniform manner should be just as important as other government data, such as statistics in public health. This information is routinely made available to the public because there has been a recognition that the public benefits from having it.
The same attitude should be applied to election data.