The Elections Applications

Apollo Teng


The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors of Elections (BOSE) is an Executive Branch organization charged with the duties of registering voters and administering elections. The maintenance of the election geography and the voters files, the assignment of the voters to the polling places, the routing of the delivery trucks to the polling places, the generation of summary statistics, and the analyses of election results can all be supported by Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This article reviews briefly some of these election applications. Mainframe voters registration support has been provided by the DIST Human Services/Public Safety Team; the mainframe geographic data support and the UNIX GIS support have been provided by the DIST GIS Team.

Sara Harris, Manager of Elections Operations, was one of the early supporters of a county-wide GIS program. She participated in numerous requirements definition meetings and provided sample data for pilot testing. It was determined early on that GIS technology could be employed to support many of the elections functions.

Mainframe Support

The Department of Information Systems and Telecommunications (DIST) has been providing data processing (DP) support to the BOSE for a long time. The Voter Information Processing (VIP) system was built on the mainframe to administer the voter registration and elections operations. To accept new voters, the VIP uses the GBF/DIME (on the mainframe) for verifying the addresses provided by the registering voters. The GBF/DIME contains a comprehensive set of valid street address ranges within the County. This usually results in a 99% or better match rate of the voters files. The rejected voter addresses are forwarded to the DIST GIS Team for research and resolution. With the Election District and Precinct codes present for each street address range, the accepted voter addresses were first assigned to respective Districts and Precincts. Through a look-up table maintained at the mainframe, additional district codes (School Board District, Councilmanic District, Legislative District, and Congressional District) are assigned to the voters file for elections operations.

UNIX GIS Support

Election Districts Maps. Starting in 1992, the DIST GIS Team digitized all of the elections geography as ARC/INFO coverages. These included Election Districts (13) and Precincts (218), Councilmanic Districts (5), Board of Education Districts (5), Legislative Districts (9), and Congressional Districts (2). Computer generated maps of these coverages have been provided to BOSE ever since. The maps vary in size from the E-sized wall maps to 8.5 x 11 sheets. BOSE distributes these maps to the requesting public for a fee ranging from 50 cents to 20 dollars. With the data in digital form, the turnaround time between editing and the generation of new maps is much shortened. To streamline the map production requests to DIST, BOSE has designed a special purpose map request form, Application for County Election District Maps. This GIS map service has alleviated the need to contract with outside firms for the printing of these maps. This cost avoidance is estimated at $10,000 annually. In addition, GIS maps show current street information as of the date of printing.

Splitting Precincts. Due to population growth in certain parts of the County and the population shifts over the years, there is a need to change the precinct boundaries from time to time. GIS has made the Precinct splitting a manageable task. Voter counts based on the then-current boundaries were produced. This set of aggregate statistics would guide the Precinct splitting. The proposed new Precinct boundaries would then be reflected in the GBF/DIME so that a new set of voter counts by Precinct can be derived. The voter counts resulting from the new set of Precincts serve as a check to ensure that the numbers of voters are balanced in relation to Precinct size and polling place capacity. Boundaries information can be provided to legislative bodies and the U.S. Census for purposes of redistricting.

Routing Applications. For collecting ballots, sending election workers and auditors to the now 221 polling places, the 221 polling places were divided into 46 routes. To manually route these 221 polling places into 46 routes is a complicated and cumbersome, if not impossible, process. The DIST GIS Team, using the tools in the Arc/Info NETWORK package, developed the 46 routes, along with driving directions. The route maps were first used for the March 5, 1996 Primary Election. BOSE forwarded the corrections (fed back from the drivers) to DIST; a corrected set of routes were generated for the November 5, 1996 General Election.

Future Plans

BOSE plans to take over some of the GIS applications that DIST has been supporting and for which established procedures are now in place. These include the maintenance of the election districts boundaries, the fine-tuning of the street name annotations for the detailed individual Precinct maps, and the generation of the various election maps. DIST has endorsed the FY 98 budget request for an adequately configured GIS workstation.