Today I’m announcing that the MIT Election Data and Science Lab is creating a user group and related listserv intended for data analysts who work for federal, state, and local election agencies. I hope that anyone who is interested will read on.
The idea behind this user group and listserv is based on the observation that election agencies are increasingly hiring employees to provide data analysis in support of election administration. In some cases, these are separate, full-time positions. In others, these are positions for which data analysis is one of several duties. Some of these employees come from data science or policy analysis backgrounds. Others have fallen into the position, as the agency they work for found it necessary to respond to requests for increasingly sophisticated data analysis and data requests.
As the number of people providing data analysis to election agencies grows, so does the value of creating a professional community of election administration data analysts. Some of the benefits include learning from peers, working out puzzles, contributing to the development of this field, and sharing the joys and frustrations of the job.
One can imagine at least two ways that this community could evolve over time. First, it could exist as an online community organized around the listserv. The model here is something like the election law listserv that Rick Hasen coordinates out of UC-Irvine. That’s the minimalist path. The second path is a little more involved, and have a more face-to-face component. The model I have in mind for this is the annual State Certification Testing of Voting Systems Conference that has been held for nearly a decade. Others will certainly have other ideas.
My own hope is that we could evolve this into something like the State Certification conference (which I always call the “Merlefest,” after one of its founders and its soul, Merle King), which has done a great job of building a community among those who are responsible for the voting technology side of the house. Not only has it been a great place to share information, but it has provided a safe place for members of the community to develop a professional identity and accumulate knowledge.
For now, we’re starting with a listserv. Our hope is that the listserv would allow election agency employees who work in data analysis to get to know each other and learn from each other.
Feel free to distribute this message to others who might be interested. For now, we will restrict membership to people who work for federal, state, and local election agencies. Once a community is established, it can decide whether to add people who do similar work, but for non-election agencies.
One last point: Some will notice that although we are suggesting that this be a community confined (at the moment) to employees of election agencies, MEDSL is not such an agency. We recognize the irony. Our goal is to help jump-start this effort. Once it gets going, we can step away, if that’s the will of the group. For now, the important thing is to start.