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Not Just Election Night: VoteStream

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but if you want people to understand what a software package does, it needs a good name.

In our Election Night Reporting System project, we’ve learned that it’s not just about election night, and it’s not just about reporting either. Even before election night, a system can convey a great deal of information about an upcoming election and the places and people that will be voting in it. To take a simple example: we’ve learned that in some jurisdictions, a wealth of voter registration information is available and ready to be reported alongside election results data that will start streaming in on election night from precincts and counties all over.

It’s not a “system”either. The technology that we’ve been building can be used to build a variety of useful systems. It’s better perhaps to think of it as a platform for “Election Result Reporting” systems of various kinds. Perhaps the simplest and most useful system to build on this platform is a system that election officials can load with data in a standard format, and which then publishes the aggregated data as an “election results and participation data feed”. No web pages, no API, just a data feed, like the widely used (in election land) data feed technique using the Voting Information Projectand their data format.

In fact, one of the recent lessons learned, is that the VIP data standard is a really good candidate for an election data standard as well, including:

  • election definitions (it is that already),
  • election results that reference an election definition (needs a little work to get there), and
  • election participation data (a modest extension to election results).

As a result (no pun intended) we’re starting work on defining requirements for how to use VIP format in our prototype of the “Election Results Reporting Platform” (ERRP).

But the prototype needs to be a lot more than the ERRP software packaged in to a data feed. It needs to also provide a web services API to the data, and it needs to have a web user interface for ordinary people to use. So we’ve decided to give the prototype a better name, which for now is “VoteStream”.

Our VoteStream prototype shows how ERRP technology can be packaged to create a system that’s operated by local election officials (LEOs) to publish election results — including but not limited to publishing unofficial results data on election night, as the precincts report in. Then, later, the LEOs can expand the data beyond vote counts that say who won or lost. That timely access on election night is important, but just as important is the additional information that can be added during the work in which the total story on election results is put together — and even more added data after the completion of that “canvass” process.

That’s VoteStream. Some other simpler ERRP-based system might be different: perhaps VoteFeed, operated by a state elections organization to collate LEO’s data and publish to data hounds, but not to the general public and their browsers. Who knows? We don’t, not yet anyhow. We’re building the platform (ERRP), and building a prototype (VoteStream) of an LEO-oriented system on the platform.

The obvious next question is: what is all that additional data beyond the winner/loser numbers on election night? We’re still learning the answers to that question, and will share more as we go along.

– EJS