An Election Geek Dies and Goes to Heaven

One of the highlights of the IACREOT Conference was the opportunity to tour the Associated Press election data center in Spokane.  This is one of a couple of centers nationwide that are responsible for aggregating election returns on election night (and primary night, and caucus night, etc.) and then pumping them back to the networks, newspapers, local tv stations, and other news outlets.  Having spent time the past couple of days with Don Rehill (AP’s deputy director of election tabulations) and some of his NY and Spokane colleagues, I came away with a new appreciation for what goes into the news of election reporting. I can’t say enough about how impressive their operation is.

One topic of conversation around the edges was the surprising lack of standardization of the output of election returns from local election units.  This is especially surprising because perhaps 80% of election units use the same election aggregation software.  Why can’t the reports from these software packages pump out data in standardized formats?  Even within states that all use the same equipment statewide, the formats of the election reporting files often differ across local jurisdictions.  As a consequence, someone, at some point, will have to hand-enter data in order to aggregate election totals from local election units.

This is not universally true, but seems to be mostly true across the states.  And, it is yet another example of the difficulty of bringing election administration fully into the information age.