HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The Economist’s Tom Standage on digital strategy and the limits of a model based on advertising
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Sept. 26, 2012, 10:43 a.m.
Mobile & Apps
donkey-elephant-cc

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.

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.

“There are going to be some states like Virginia that are wonderful and have very clean data,” Tumgoren said. “Other places — we don’t even know which ones yet — data is going to be less accessible because it’s not centralized or it’s in formats like image PDF.”

For now, Open Elections is building the infrastructure to begin collecting and sorting data. As they recruit volunteers, they’ll be looking for people who can dig up U.S. Senate, House, presidential, and gubernatorial elections results from the past 10 years or so.

“This is such a big project we’re limiting the scope initially,” Tumgoren said. “Governor, Senate, House, president: Whatever else we can get, we’re not going to turn our noses up at it.” While they may not be able to clean up, link, and standardize data from other races, Tumgoren says his team will still work to centralize it.

“It’s just an untapped resource,” Tumgoren said. “The ability to do this is very limited right now. We almost don’t know what we don’t know. I have a vague sense of some of the questions I’d like to ask but I bet there are tons of journalists and developers who are going to think of things that never even occurred to me. The possibilities for so-called data mashups are limitless.”

Photo by DonkeyHotey used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Sept. 26, 2012, 10:43 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Mobile & Apps
PART OF A SERIES     Knight News Challenge 2012
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Economist’s Tom Standage on digital strategy and the limits of a model based on advertising
“The Economist has taken the view that advertising is nice, and we’ll certainly take money where we can get it, but we’re pretty much expecting it to go away.”
Why Storyful is expanding its business to work with brands
It’s one element of a broader expansion for the social news agency, which is also growing its product team and working on improving its core trend-detection technology.
An ad blocker for tragedies: How news sites handle content around sensitive stories
For stories like the Germanwings plane crash, The New York Times and many other publishers flip a switch to remove ads to avoid unwanted connections.
What to read next
2481
tweets
Millennials say keeping up with the news is important to them — but good luck getting them to pay for it
The new report from the Media Insight Project looks at millennials’ habits and attitudes toward news consumption: “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”
926The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists
News companies have moved from print dollars to digital dimes to mobile pennies. Now, with the highly anticipated launch of the Apple Watch, the screens are getting even smaller. How are smart publishers thinking about the right way to serve users and maintain their attention on smartwatches?
792A wave of distributed content is coming — will publishers sink or swim?
Instead of just publishing to their own websites, news organizations are being asked to publish directly to platforms they don’t control. Is the hunt for readers enough to justify losing some independence?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Instapaper
Quora
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Reddit
Center for Investigative Reporting
The Weekly Standard
Grist
Demand Media
Global Voices
Newser
TBD
Bloomberg Businessweek