Knight news challenge winner will make historical election data easily accessible

by Jeff Sonderman

The winners of the latest Knight News Challenge announced today include a collaboration between developers at The New York Times and The Washington Post to create a free, comprehensive database of past U.S. election results.

New York Times interactive news developer Derek Willis and Washington Post news apps developer Serdar Tumgoren are working together on the project, named Open Elections. Their employers are not officially involved, but are supportive of the idea.

How could journalists use this data once it’s available?

In an interview, Willis suggested merging the elections data with demographic data to examine how changing population patterns have affected voting trends. A journalist could show one candidate’s base of support shifting across multiple elections. The data could even provide simple context for a daily news story, such as quickly looking up the last time a Republican won a certain office.

“Serdar and I both work on elections in our day jobs, and year after year, election after election, we would have to put together previous election results. You want them for comparison’s sake — to show how things have changed in a state or a county,” Willis said. “I’ve done this three or four times now, and it’s always a pain. It’s always much more complicated than it needs to be. … There’s no centralized place to go.”

“You’re looking at multiple sources and formats, and trying to shoehorn those all into a single standardized format. It’s tricky. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time,” Willis continued. “It starts to dawn on you that this should be easier, we shouldn’t be repeating the same thing every two years.”

The end product will include a catalog of the available data, and data sets accessible through an API and through bulk downloads in common data formats.




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