"On November 7, 2000, millions of Florida voters arrived at their designated polling places to cast their votes. Unfortunately, countless voters were denied the opportunity to vote because their names did not appear on the lists of registered voters. When poll workers attempted to call the supervisors of elections offices to verify voter registration status, they were often met with continuous busy signals or no answer. In accordance with their training, most poll workers refused to permit persons to vote whose names did not appear on the rolls at their precinct."
United States Commission on Civil Rights, Report on Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election
Available at http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/vote2000/report/ch2.htm
Stories of widespread voting irregularities dominated the news in the days following the 2000 presidential elections. The most common characteristics of these stories was the inadequacy of procedures for ensuring every citizen can vote and the unavailability of resources for resolving the matter on a case by case basis.
One way of addressing these systematic problems is through increased exposure in the media. As a service to viewers, MSNBC established the 877-MYVOTE1 hotline for reporting voting irregularities throughout the U.S. Promoted in the days leading up to the election and receiving continuous television coverage throughout the day ech of the last 3 election cycles, a key concern for promoting information gathered by the service is ensuring people can find out what is going on around them, and that information is always up to date.
Trellon worked with MSNBC and Infovoter to establish a voter alert line that collects call-in information and delivers aggregate data through the Internet tied to specific states and legislative districts. The challenge for this project is to bridge the gap between phone banks and websites and deliver a solution that cna report in real time to millions of Americans.
There is something very attractive about systems where users can dial into an 800 number and have data received from the call automatically populate a web site. Telephones are a familiar medium for sharing information and much more accessible for people who are not technologically inclined. Numerous voice xml services have emerged over the years, offering affordable methods for recording calls and providing data which can be delivered over the web.
Our strategy focused on pulling data into the system through XML feeds and tying it to specific polling locations. We did this by creating maps generated from shape files that are displayed within Flash, representing aggregate data for each political boundary.
As Seen on TV
Trellon's mapping solution was featured on MSNBC throughout the day on election day as part of overall election coverage, driving millions of users to the site. In order to make the system scale, we created individual maps for the overall nation and each state, ensuring file sizes would be manageable for even the slowest Internet connections. We optimized the file sizes for each map by reducing the number of points in each shape file, reducing the number of lines while still preserving the physical boundaries of each state and district. The result is a progressively loading solution that can be deployed over a CDN for maximum efficiency.
Importing Call Center Data
The mapping solution Trellon delivered as part of this project involves real time data received from call-in centers. Information received from 800-MYVOTE1 is automatically aggregated and tied to specific legislative districts. Information is published in an XML format, which is automatically imported into Flash for presentation within the website. In order to make it scale, the information is published over a CDN for distribution to users and updates at various intervals depending on changes at the origin servers.
Geographic Visualization Through Flash
Every state and every legislative district in the U.S. is represented in the voter alert hotline. Users can drill down to each state to view data and are drawn to specific 'crisis regions' based on coloration of the map. Within each state, each legislative district also has it's own coloration. The result is users are able to understand national, regional and local reports as part of the service.
We'll See It Again Next Time
The system was designed to support ongoning election coverage, starting in the 2004 election cycle but also going forward into new elections. Districts change over time, and Trellon designed the system to allow changes to legislative boundaries and preserve the relationships with source data. Data providers change over time, and Trellon designed the system to be platform-neutral, allowing the system to be converted to a new provider through a simple change in the source code. This resulted in a comprehensive system for publishing information that can be refactored quickly and easily.