New York Times, Washington Post developers team up to create Open Elections database

Standardized state-by-state elections database gets a Knight News Challenge boost.

By Adrienne LaFrance

Calling all data hounds!

Senior developers from The New York Times and The Washington Post are looking for volunteers to help collect more than 10 years of federal elections data from each state. With their help — and $200,000 in Knight News Challenge funding — Serdar Tumgoren and Derek Willis are working on creating a free, comprehensive source of official U.S. election results.

The goal is to end up with electoral data that can then be linked to different types of data sets — campaign finance, voter demographics, legislative histories, and so on — in ways that previously haven’t been possible on this scale.

Tumgoren, of The Washington Post, says the idea for Open Elections came from “mutual frustration that there is no single, free source of data — and more importantly, nicely standardized data.” Soothing this frustration isn’t necessarily going to be pretty. The task of finding state elections data — at least some of which will be a godawful, inextricable mess — will require some “brute-forcing,” Tumgoren says.

“If you look at Mississippi’s data, they make me not very happy — they make me sad, in fact,” Tumgoren said. “Just a sampling of a few states I randomly picked, they run the gambit from pretty good to oh-my-God-how-are-we-going-to-get-this-data.”

Tumgoren estimates it will take about two years to get to where he wants Open Elections to be, but the entire process will be open to the public. As data comes in, the team will clean it up, put it in a standardized format, and share it. What that format will be is still up in the air — as are many of the details, which Tumgoren says they’ll have to figure out as they begin to get a better sense of the state of the data they’ll get.

 

Read more at niemanlab.org

 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.