Casting a Vote for GIS-enabled Election Software

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Industry News
Casting a Vote for GIS-enabled Election Software

by Susan Smith

Since the 2004 election, many new developments that utilize GIS software have taken place in election software. Companies such as Philadelphia-based Avencia Incorporated and Committee of Seventy have stepped up to the plate to use GIS to address some of the protection challenges for voters and create a safe, secure voting experience for everyone in the U.S. At the other end of the spectrum, Hart InterCivic and ESRI have entered into a relationship to develop a GIS-enabled election management system to enhance election processes at the state and local government levels.

According to Robert Cheetham, president and founder of Avencia, a GIS and software development company, the upcoming 2008 presidential election season will be an exciting time filled with activities such as the primaries, caucuses and straw polls, before the big general election in November. The 103-year-old Committee of Seventy conducts the oldest and largest regional voter protection program in the U.S., the Election Oversight Program. For the most recent election of a new mayor and city council, the Committee partnered with Avencia to help geographically, map, record and analyze election day incidents in real time.

The Committee works with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on Election Day to coordinate a program to monitor and register election incidents.

A small firm of approximately 20 employees, Avencia has been around since 2000. Their focus is building web based GIS software products. According to Cheetham, a fair amount of their business is local, state and federal government, and they also serve non profits, academic institutions and private businesses.

The Committee runs a hotline where citizens and volunteers can call in with polling place questions, and reports of problems at the 1,076 polling places. The information is logged, then teams, volunteers, attorneys and representatives from the district attorney’s office to interview witnesses and make sure there is integrity in the voting place.

“Think of it as a 911 solution for Election Day,” said Cheetham.

The new GIS system would facilitate easy and fast recording of incidents and real time map generation Key advantages include:

1) At the operation center, teams are assigned to each section of the city. Maps help them visualize as the incidents come in so they can assign teams more effectively.
2) On Election Day, officials are able to more effectively communicate to the media when there are serious problems.
3) After election summary reporting to public, to summarize problems present in the election.

Prior to the GIS, the Committee worked with a wall paper map on Election Day.

If any charges or citations are made, the district attorney must be involved. “There’s a call center that logs the incidents into an Election Incident Reporting System (IRS),” explained Cheetham. “The IRS is a web based system run by another non profit, operated nationally. We’re able to extract data out of there electronically and then bring it into ArcGIS Desktop to map and run a series of geoprocessing models every half hour or so to produce summary results. The summary results are exported as PDF files and emailed out to all the teams.”

Since last fall, Avencia has been working on a proposal to build a web-based, fully automated system, whereby when the incidents are logged, they’re immediately available to everyone. This will eliminate the more time consuming desktop component and make it a fully web based application.

Cheetham said the Committee of Seventy envisions taking their election monitoring work out to the metro area surrounding Philadelphia. Ultimately, if their automated system is well received locally, they hope to take it across the country to other jurisdictions.

Hart InterCivic and ESRI Relationship

Hart InterCivic, a company that has been a leading government services technology provider for almost 100 years, has recently partnered with ESRI to develop and offer GIS solutions to the election community. Hart InterCivic’s role in county and state government has evolved from printing forms and ballots to their current role as an industry leader in election technology. Answering the call of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, Hart first entered the electronic voting age with a voting machine specifically designed to accommodate the needs of voters with disabilities.

“From there Hart’s focus has been on security and reliability and always giving the voters a choice, be it paper ballots or electronic voting, ” said Betsy Doty, product manager for Hart InterCivic. “We run the full gamut of voting solutions, offering both electronic and paper based systems, as well as disabled access.

Doty said Hart InterCivic is one of four main voting vendors.

click to enlarge [ Click to Enlarge ]
Last year Hart InterCivic purchased Farragut Systems., a GIS software and services company for local governments. Now Hart InterCivic is working on combining GIS technology with their election management systems. This involvement led to the relationship with ESRI. With so many counties already using ESRI technology, this was a natural fit,” said Doty. “We are working with them to enhance the election process, with a focus on real-time election results and polling place locator solutions.”

They took a recent prototype for election night reporting to the National League of Cities Conference in New Orleans, where it was favorably received. The prototype is a visualization of real time election results displayed on a map.

“We’ve been doing election night results for a long time and we’ve already integrated with other election vendors so the solution is not limited to only our customers. We can display these election night results for any county or any state,” explained Doty. A map showing the election precincts is displayed and the winners are color coded to show winners by precinct or, if this were a state-wide application, by county.

“Other applications such as a polling place locator and a ballot preview are natural extensions of GIS technology.”

Doty said they are very excited about combining ESRI’s GIS technology with Hart’s election knowledge and experience. “We do all we can to help our customers with the election process, and this will be one more opportunity to do that.” concluded Doty.

Top News of the Week

Merrick & Company, a leader in LiDAR, digital ortho imaging, photogrammetry, and geospatial solutions was awarded a $569,000 contract with the City of Chihuahua to deliver aerial photography, 3-meter LiDAR data, 20-centimeter pixel resolution digital orthophotos, a DTM to support 0.5 meter contour extrapolation, planimetric data, and delivery of Merrick’s MARS® software. Awarded in June 2007, final delivery of all data products is planned for March 2008.

Commercial third-party software Freeance Web 5.0 reduces time and effort needed to create Web mapping applications and increase functionality with ArcGIS Server for local governments:

City of Palm Desert CA
Needed multiple templates that can be modified and connecting many different databases to ESRI MXD and AXL map services. Also required PDF printing for end-users.

City of Arvada CO
Needed database connecting and better layer control for end users. Also needed control over the placement and layout of the results tables from queries and feature identify functions.

Centre County PA
Just installed ArcGIS Server. Currently running ArcIMS and needs to replace ArcIMS web apps with ArcGIS in 2008. Wanted a non-programming solution for in-house development.

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