In my last post, I said that the time is right for breaking the logjam in election results reporting, enabling a big reload on technology for reporting, and big increase in public transparency. Now, let me explain why, starting with the biggest of several reasons.  Elections data standards are needed to define common data formats into which a variety of results data can converted.

Those standards are emerging now, and previously the lack of them was a real problem.

  • We can't reasonably expect a local elections office to take additional efforts to publish the data, or otherwise serve the public with election results services, if the result will be just one voice in a Babel of dozens of different data languages and dialects.
  • We can't reasonably expect a 3rd party organization to make use of the data from many sources, unless it's available in a single standard format, or they have the wherewithal to do huge amounts of work on data conversion, repeatedly.

The good news is that election data standards have come along way in the last couple of years, due to:

  • Significant support from a the U.S. Governments standards body -- the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST);
  • Sustained effort from the volunteers working in standards committees in the international standards body -- the IEEE 1622 Working Group; and
  • Practical experience with evolving de facto standards, particularly with the data formats and services of the Pew Voting Information Project (VIP), and the several elections organizations that participate in providing VIP data.

There are other reasons why the time is right, but they are more widely understood:

  • We now have technologies that perennially understaffed and underfunded elections organization can feasibly adopt quickly and cheaply including powerful web application frameworks, supported by cloud hosting operations, within a growing ecosystem of web services that enable many organizations to access a variety of data and apps.
  • "Open government," "open data," and even "big data" are buzz phrases now commonly understood, which describe a powerful and maturing set of technologies and IT practices.  This new language of government IT innovation facilitates actionable conversations about the opportunity to provide the public with far more robust information on elections and their participation and performance.

It's a "promised land" of government IT and the so-called Gov 2.0 movement (arguably we think more like Gov 3.0 when you think about it in terms of 2.0 was all about collaboration and 3.0 is becoming all about the "utility web"--real apps available on demand -- a direction some of these services will inevitably take).  However, for election technology in the near term, we first have to cross the river by learning how to "get the data out" (and that is more like Gov 2.0) More next time on our assumptions about how that river can be crossed, and our experiences to date on doing that crossing.

-- EJS

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