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Reporting Recipe: Election Administration Data From Electionland

How to use a federal election administration data set to cover the U.S. elections.

This month we published an interactive story that helps readers understand how elections are actually run all over the U.S. It’s based on data from the 2012 Election Administration and Voter Survey, a biannual project run by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to better understand voters’ experience at the polls.

The story is part of Electionland, a collaboration with the Google News Lab, Univision, WNYC, the USA Today Network, the First Draft Coalition and CUNY Graduate School of Journalism to cover problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2016 election.

There is no act more central to a democracy than voting. Electionland is a project that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2016 election. Read more and sign up.

Our story automatically geo-locates users to show them a standard set of information about their county or state. But this is really just a jumping off point for further reporting — and that’s where you come in. Here are a few ways you can use this data to ask interesting questions and to build out local stories.

Is your county ready for this year’s voter turnout?

  1. Use our story to find out how your county’s turnout compares to other counties in your state. What factors influence this?
  2. Ask your local elections office how voter registration for this election compares to past presidential elections and write an article about how turnout might be expected to change this time around.
  3. Using that registration data, take a look at how many poll workers per polling place your county had in 2012. Research has shown that poll workers per polling place is one key determinant in wait times at the polls. Will poll workers be prepared for the expected level of turnout this year?

How are provisional ballots handled in your county?

  1. Use the story to find out what percentage of provisional ballots were rejected in your county and state in 2012.
  2. Ask your local elections office for breakdowns of why provisional ballots were rejected. These are very likely public records. Provisional ballots are rejected for a number of reasons, as we have reported, and those reasons vary by state.
  3. If your state is a “full rejection” state — meaning that the full ballot is tossed if someone casts a ballot in the wrong precinct — see if you can determine in which precincts this happens the most often.

Have more or fewer voters been purged from the rolls in the run-up to this election?

  1. Use our interactive story to find out what percentage of the voting age population was purged from voter rolls in the run-up to the 2012 general election (between 2010 and 2012).
  2. Check with your local election officials about voter purges in this election and see how that number has changed. Is it more or less than in the 2012 election?
  3. If purges have increased or decreased, see if you can find out why that happened.

How does your county handle absentee ballots?

Absentee ballots are not a core part of what we’re covering through Electionland, but there’s a lot of interest in this topic! It’s one of the most common issues about which voters have asked us questions since we launched the project.

  1. Use the app to see how many absentee ballots were rejected by local election officials in 2012.
  2. Check with your local officials to see if the rules for absentee ballots have changed for 2016, and whether those changes might impact rejection rates.
  3. Also look at rejection and return rates for overseas and military absentee ballots.

General Notes

Remember that with so many people voting, even small percentages mean thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of people. You may see that your state’s absentee ballot rejection rate is 1.5 percent, only to do the math and realize that this means 10,000 voters were for all practical purposes disenfranchised.

For the most part, election officials are civic-minded folks who are eager to discuss their often misunderstood role. Their work is complex and demanding, fraught with constitutional responsibility, and on Election Day insanely stressful. They’ve got great stories to tell.

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