Our elections team now knows what we can do as a GIS department and . . . how much we both want to show accountability and help the public by providing good data. Their confidence in GIS has skyrocketed because of the amazing things we have been able to produce to help their day-to-day workflow.
Utah County Uses GIS to Track Real-Time Elections Data
This year will mark another United States presidential election. However, the voter experience will look different for many citizens across the country due to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Whether citizens will be taking their ballot to physical voting locations, dropping their ballots off at drop box locations, or mailing in their ballots, there is a desperate need to modernize antiquated, time-consuming election processes.
Utah County, the second-largest county in the state of Utah, transformed its outdated election processes into a location-enabled system suited for modern-day elections. The elections department collaborated with the GIS team to eliminate hours of staff time typically spent updating election results on election night and developed an efficient process to collect ballots from drop boxes throughout the 2,144-square-mile county.
Providing the Public with Real-Time Results
Prior to implementing the ArcGIS solutions for elections, the county had used a standard, tabulated document with the number of votes cast per candidate. Unfortunately, this system lacked visualization and a point of reference for determining which candidates won which precincts. Utah County GIS systems analyst Andrea Befus understood the need to create an elections dashboard to allow residents to view election results in near real time in an easy-to-understand format.
By using ArcGIS Dashboards, Befus was able to input voter data, including voter turnout, political party affiliation, number of total ballots cast, election night results, and other essential voter information. Residents can now use the dashboard to go back to any recent election, filter out specific voter data, and do their own analysis, thus enabling public interaction with the county's voter data like never before. The election results dashboard is not only useful for displaying historical data but has also proved to be a vital resource on election night.
According to Befus, county staff saved about four hours' worth of time throughout election night by updating their public-facing dashboard as results came in. Once a 50-minute process, an updated count can now be provided in only 3 minutes using ArcGIS, with information on what candidates are winning per geographic area. "Additionally, the new election night results reporting dashboard is now the envy of the state. It was so successful in our municipal elections that several cities abandoned their own results tools and directed voters to our website," says Utah County Clerk/Auditor, Amelia Powers Gardner. "The mapping feature provides a visual display of the votes tabulated. The tool allows voters to zoom in on their specific precinct to see how many voters participated and how the votes were cast."
As the county updates election results at an unprecedented rate on its dashboard, thereby freeing hours of staff time, it can allocate more of its resources to securely collecting ballots leading up to and during Election Day.
Managing Drop Box Ballot Security
Many jurisdictions across the country are facing the reality of allowing mail-in ballots for the upcoming elections and are struggling to answer the call to do so efficiently. Because voting by mail has been the norm in Utah for several years, Utah County staff have developed a streamlined workflow to efficiently track, dispatch, and collect data from its mobile, minimizing any doubt over the location of ballots in the collection process. While voting by mail is the encouraged method for the entire country for this year's election, ballot security remains a great public concern.
Utah County has deliberately placed 20 ballot drop boxes near strategic locations, such as libraries, recreational centers, and city offices, for registered voters to place their ballot envelopes. To maintain ballot security, Utah County's GIS department is using ArcGIS QuickCapture, an app that allows mobile staff to quickly capture photos, text, and other data for drop box ballot tracking. To ensure that every ballot is accounted for, the county equipped each Election Day rover, or mobile worker, with ArcGIS QuickCapture. As the Election Day rovers arrive at their assigned drop box, they can drop a point on a map with a time stamp, weigh the ballots, and provide the exact location and time they pick up the ballots. Once they return to the office, the elections department weighs each bag of ballots to ensure that the number of ballots matches the bag's weight that was typed in the application, double-checking that no ballots were lost in transit.
These measures illustrate transparency and accountability to local residents. If a resident calls the elections department to inquire about the safety of their ballot, staff can provide the time stamp and location data that the rovers collected.
County Clerk Gardner admits that, "In today's election environment, security at every step of the process is crucial to ensure public trust and confidence in our system—the very system that undergirds democracy itself . . . The new drop box tracking and mapping feature allows us to anticipate the volume of ballots and ensure that we are staffed appropriately. It also gives us critical security oversight on the movement of returned mail ballots."
"Our elections team now knows what we can do as a GIS department and . . . how much we both want to show accountability and help the public by providing good data. Their confidence in GIS has skyrocketed because of the amazing things we have been able to produce to help their day-to-day workflow," Befus shares.
Most jurisdictions are now facing a steep increase in mail-in voting, a unique process that presents the challenge of securely organizing drop boxes and documenting election results data. It is essential to work efficiently, have access to real-time election results, and provide transparency to the community during an election, as voting is an important constitutional right. To ensure a smooth, organized, and secure mail-in voting system, update your jurisdiction's elections processes by incorporating ArcGIS technology before your next election.