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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Maps for Voting Precincts Show Wait Times for Voting

November 1st, 2016 by Susan Smith

Maps are an integral part of the voting system in the U.S. As we approach this presidential election, sentiments are high and there is concern about such matters as voter fraud, voter suppression tactics that rarely have been critical issues in the past. As a result, the need to provide reassurance and accuracy to voters is paramount.

Many mapmakers provide maps of voting districts and precincts, Electoral College breakdown, red states/blue states, etc.

One way to address information for poll workers is by having accurate location-based solutions at the polling sites. Software companies such as Esri are hard at work developing location-based solutions that will provide poll workers storymaps online, as well as updated information on wait times at the polls so voters can avoid long lines. Christian Carlson, Esri’s Director for State, Local, and Provincial Government, spoke with GISCafe about their ability to upload real time wait times and other polling station data for poll workers with a GIS enabled mobile device, for those early voters.

Poll workers can upload this information instantly onto a map, providing their electorate with the most complete situational awareness through real-time wait times.

Cobb County, Georgia’s GIS team enabled their county’s professional poll workers to be able to upload real-time wait times for early voting, which are layered onto an online public-facing map, to help avoid lines on election day.

This is significant, because in the past this has been a very manual process.  A worker at a polling place would have to send an email on the approximate wait times to a web administrator who would then post that time on a web map. The lag time between this information being sent, gathered, and then updated led to very inaccurate wait times that angered the electorate.

Cobb County, Georgia took it a step further by creating a story map into which they included the polling location map, but they also created layers/tabs with more polling information for the electorate in one, easily digestible, location. (This was  one of the suggestions from the Pew Charitable Trust)  They launched this the Monday early voting started and the response was impressive – over 13,000 views in just one week.  And that is only related to early voting, which is only in two locations.

Forsythe County, NC is also using GIS to help provide real-time wait time information for early voting locations.  Poll workers use iPads and a simple web interface that is, literally, a start and stop button.  When a voter enters the polling queue, a poll worker gives them a plastic card on a lanyard and pushes the start button they see on their iPad screen.  When the voter gets to the point of actually voting, they turn in the lanyard and the polling worker presses the stop button they see on their iPad screen.  The duration between the start and the stop buttons being pressed is automatically uploaded to a database which syncs with the GIS web map publicly available online.  The wait times displayed on the web map are updated every 30 seconds, providing voters with real-time wait time information.  In less than a week since launch, there have been more than 16,000 views.  While this is only intended for use during early voting, the county will consider rolling it out for future Election Days as well.

As an added bonus, these elapsed time records are not deleted – each one is saved, allowing this data to be reviewed post-election to help determine peak voting times, allowing for more informed planning for future elections.

GISCafe Voice: Both Georgia and NC are states where we are told to expect voter suppression tactics by the Republican party. Do you feel that this technology will be able to pick up on delays caused by possible interruption at the polls?

Absolutely – poll wait times are updated frequently throughout the day. In Cobb County, Georgia they are updated four times a day. In Forsyth County, North Carolina it is almost real time. The ability to see where various polling stations are located provides options for people who may not have known where other polling stations were located.

GISCafe Voice: Can voters view the wait times online before they leave their homes so they can find the best time to go?

Yes  – for Cobb County, the wait times are updated up to four times a day.

Forsyth County, NC continually tracks the wait time using lanyards held by people as they go through the line. A poll worker hands a lanyard to a person as they enter a line and times how long it takes them to go through to cast their vote. These times are continually updated throughout the day.

GISCafe Voice: What kind of additional polling information is included in the Georgia storymap?

Cobb County has a story map that provides information including locations, what is required to vote early and a link to register to vote,  on early voting locations, instructions on how to vote by mail, information on voting on election day and information on the Cobb County Elections office with a link to the webpage.

GISCafe Voice: Are voters able to view this technology on their phones and tablets?

Yes, the Esri technology is optimized for all devices. The apps the Counties created are not available as apps from an app store, but the websites can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

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Categories: data, Esri, geospatial, GIS

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