Civic Data

Happy Election Day from CTCL!

Every election throughout the year is special (even if it’s regularly scheduled), but the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November always has a particularly special place in our organization’s heart. This year is no exception, and as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, CTCL has worked on civic data efforts to research ballot information from local election offices across the US. This information enables a number of tools to help connect voters to the ballot information they need to make an informed decision when they step into the voting booth.

Here’s a few of the places you’ll see our data as you prepare to head into the voting booth today:

  • Facebook: This election cycle we've renewed our partnership with Facebook to connect all US Facebook users with local ballot information. This year Facebook developed a new and improved candidate information tool that includes direct-to-camera videos from candidates on why they’re running for office, what policy issues they care about, and what they hope to accomplish if elected. All US users have received in Newsfeed nudges prompting them to use the candidate info tool. You can read more here.

  • Google Search: We have also continued our years long partnership with Google to enhance the civic information available on Search. When a user searches for a candidate or office up for election, CTCL’s data is included in Search features that provide useful information about that contest, surface the other candidates competing for that office, and more. More information is available here.

  • Google Civic Information API: CTCL’s data is also available via the Google Civic Information API, which allows organizations to build their own custom tools to connect people with ballot information. Tools built with the ballot information in the API include Get to the Polls from the Voting Information Project, Vote.org’s ballot information feature, and a number of state-specific tools from Rock the Vote.

At CTCL, we believe that putting answers to voters’ most asked questions in the places they already go for information is a powerful way to help people feel confident in navigating the electoral process and ultimately make our democracy stronger. We sincerely thank all of the election officials across the country, without whom none of our efforts would be possible, and all of our partners, large and small, who help get this information into the hands of those who can use it. We hope everyone has an excellent Election Day!

CTCL Civic Data Research in the News

The CTCL Civic Data team is gearing up for a big year in 2018 -- stay tuned for announcements about our data release schedule -- but last week our past years’ research was again in the national spotlight.

Since 2015, CTCL has partnered with the Women Donors Network’s Reflective Democracy campaign on research into the demographics of candidates and elected officials. This research takes our existing candidate and elected official datasets and adds race and gender, through both independent research and matching to existing modeled data. Our 2015 research on the race and gender of prosecutors, which was featured in the New York Times, found that 95% of elected prosecutors in the United States were white and nearly 80% were white men. This research was again highlighted in the March 14th episode of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, in her segment about prosecutorial discretion. You can watch the clip, with our research appearing around the 2:50 mark, here. [Heads up: the clip includes some salty language.]

More recently, CTCL & WDN’s Reflective Democracy research was included as part of Cosmopolitan’s How to Run for Office feature. This series, appearing both online and in print, focused on personal stories and articles encouraging women across the political spectrum to run for elective office. On March 13, the 2018 National Magazine Awards for Print and Digital Media (known as the Ellies for the award’s pachydermous shape) honored the series with the Ellie in the Personal Service category.

CTCL is proud of the role our research plays in supporting award winning journalism, and we look forward to continuing our work to help understand how communities across the country work with and are represented by their government.

CTCL Hosts Third Annual Ballot Data Convening

Illuminated sign directing attendees to the 2018 Ballot Data Convening at Google DC

Illuminated sign directing attendees to the 2018 Ballot Data Convening at Google DC

In late January, CTCL’s civic data team hosted the third annual Ballot Data Convening, at Google’s Washington, DC offices. As with previous years, the Democracy Fund sponsored convening brought together a wide range of organizations that use ballot data to drive civic participation. This year, attendees ran the spectrum from small civic engagement organizations to large tech companies, and included representatives from the worlds of funders, academia, and government. 

All told 38 individuals from 25 organizations were in attendance for a full day of discussions, kicked off with a happy hour the night before sponsored by Microsoft. Topics covered during the convening included opportunities and challenges for collaboration in 2018, how we as a community can get better at measuring who our work impacts and how, and an update on the ballot data working groups from 2017.

In small groups, then in plenary, the morning was focused on discussing the work ahead of us in 2018. Participants highlighted the heightened energy and public interest in elections going into 2018 as an opportunity for driving increased participation. On the other hand, this increased attention also brings additional scrutiny, and more candidates running for office means more work to do prior to the election. The group also discussed the implications of new federal and state initiatives on our work, particularly around cybersecurity. All told, those in attendance were pleased with the progress we’ve made and institutional knowledge we’ve built as a community over the past years, but emphasized that challenges like a lack of funding and tight timelines as continued issues. A full set of notes of this discussion as taken on the day of the meeting can be found here

We also spent time as a group discussing how we think about the impact of our work. This included discussing answers to pre-convening survey questions around who organizations viewed as their target audience and what behaviors they hoped to produce. These questions drew a wide range of responses. Some groups use surveys and randomized experiments to explore the answers to these questions, while others had little to no resources available explicitly for measurement. This disparity in measurement resources, as well as inherent limitations in some groups’ ability to access data from partners, will be a key ongoing discussion topic in working groups throughout 2018.

Afternoon sessions were focused on updates on working groups’ progress and breakouts on their subject areas. Representatives from Democracy Works and the National States Geographic Information Council gave updates on their work on identifiers and political geography, respectively, and CTCL gave updates on the audience & impact working group as well as the data & sources group. 

A summary of resources shared at the convening, including notes, attendees, and slides, can be found here. Stay tuned in this space or join our civic data mailing list for updates as more formalized findings and resources are rolled out!

CTCL Reaches Millions of Voters through New Facebook Feature

With Facebook’s new Preview Your Ballot feature, voters this year have a convenient source of election information right at their fingertips. And behind this helpful tool are the civic datasets created by the Center for Technology and Civic Life.

As part of our mission to increase access to important civic information, CTCL gathers and publishes our nation’s largest civic datasets that answer the questions “What’s on my ballot?” and “Who are my elected officials?” Then, we work to provide this information where people already are -- to help make civic engagement fit into people’s everyday lives. 

With Preview Your Ballot, Facebook is placing information to help voters prepare for Election Day in the same place where people keep up with their family, friends, and communities. 

Beginning Wednesday, November 2, Preview Your Ballot began to appear in everyone’s Facebook feed. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of online adults in the United States are Facebook users.

Preview Your Ballot is easy to use. It asks you to enter your address and then shows you what’s on your ballot. Candidates are presented in random order, and you can read about their positions, see endorsements, and visit the candidates’ websites to help you make up your mind. You can save favorites to make a voting plan for yourself, and if you want, you can even share with friends the people and positions you’re supporting.

Facebook and CTCL have gained notice and acclaim for the new tool, including spotlights from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Hill, USA Today, Mashable, and CNET

It’s our hope that Preview Your Ballot will help people across the U.S. learn what’s on their ballots, get informed about the issues and candidates, and go to the polls on Election Day.

Find what's on your ballot with Google & the Ballot Information Project

Research shows that the question most asked by voters is "What's on my ballot?" Now, thanks to CTCL's Ballot Information Project, the answer to that question is just a Google search away!

Last week, Google rolled out BIP's ballot information in its search tool. This tool, which also includes information about where and how to vote in each state, appears automatically when a user searches any voting-related term. Voters are prompted to enter their address, and in return they get a set of national, state, and local candidates that will be on their ballot, along with easy links to learn more about those candidates. 

ballot_search

The Ballot Information Project has been supporting Google's election products since 2012. This year's dataset is the most comprehensive we've ever collected, and we are excited to be able to serve so many voters with this partnership.

Stay tuned for more news about how the Ballot Information Project's data is being used in 2016!

The Ballot Information Project Named a Classy Award Finalist

CTCL's Ballot Information Project was named a finalist for the 2016 Classy Awards, recognizing the innovation in nonprofits and social enterprises. BIP was selected from a pool of over 1,300 submitted programs and joins finalists from all over the world working a wide range of social issues. Winners will be announced June 16th at the Collaborative conference in Boston, MA. 

You can read more about the Classy Awards and the other finalists on the Classy blog.

Resources and Further Collaboration Following the Ballot Data Convening

As a follow up from our January Ballot Data Convening, CTCL has created a series of resources that we hope will help you connect with tools and data about candidates and referenda. These resources include:

We hope that these resources will be helpful for individuals and organizations who care about what is on voters' ballots. We plan on updating these resources throughout the year, so check back often for the latest updates. If you've got an additional resource you'd like to share, or if you're an organization who would like to be added, please contact data@techandciviclife.org.

One theme from the convening was the need to expand the collaboration conversation beyond the traditional civic data world. Specifically, journalists and academics were mentioned as two sets of people that could both contribute to and benefit from existing civic data infrastructure.

Since the convening, CTCL has worked to reach out to both fields. In March, CTCL attended the 2016 Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference in Denver, CO. At the conference devoted to data journalism, CTCL's Director of Civic Data Donny Bridges presented with DataMade's Eric van Zanten on sane ways of collecting candidate data. Discussion topics included what data is available through existing APIs, opportunities for local journalists to contribute and enhance data about candidates, and the importance of standards to data interoperability.

Last week, CTCL was also in attendance for a workshop hosted by Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research. The discussion focused on their Center for Local Elections in American Politics, and in particular the data available in their excellent local elections database. The group of academic researchers, non-profits, and foundations in attendance learned about some of the research this data has already made possible, brainstormed new research questions the dataset could be used to investigate and talked through ways to continue to improve the database itself.

We look forward to continuing to work on improving our civic data infrastructure through collaboration and coordination - be that with civic technology organizations, journalists, academics, or anyone else who cares about using data to encourage civic engagement.

CTCL Hosts, Attends DC Civic Data Workshops

Snow wasn’t the only thing that descended on our nation’s capital at the end of January - CTCL’s Civic Data Team also blanketed the city for a flurry of events designed to improve America’s civic data infrastructure.

On January 29th, CTCL hosted a convening of stakeholders from organizations who produce or consume ballot data - standardized information related to the contests and candidates that will be on voters’ ballots. The convening was sponsored by the Democracy Fund, and hosted at Google’s DC office. Nearly 40 individuals from 30 different organizations attended, including representatives from technology companies, civic engagement organizations, and government agencies.

The meeting focused on detailing the landscape of organizations plans for the use or collection of ballot data in 2016, as well as fostering greater collaboration in the space. The full-day convening focused on challenges and solutions in the areas of data collection, data standards, and use of the data in civic education. Participants analyzed both issues involving ballot data in the upcoming election and looked ahead at how ballot data can be improved by 2020.

The conversations had at the convening were just the beginning, and CTCL looks forward to continuing our efforts in facilitating coordination between groups, with the ultimate goal of increasing both the quantity and quality of tools that use ballot data to drive civic participation. Thanks once again to both the Democracy Fund and Google for making this meeting possible, and to all those in attendance for your hard work!

CTCL Urges Investment in Local Government at the GSA

The day before our ballot data convening, CTCL was invited to participate in a similarly themed meeting being hosted by the US General Services Administration (GSA). Rather than elections, however, the meeting focused on collaboration in the field of elected official, electoral district, and other government-related data.

CTCL’s Director of Civic Data, Donny Bridges, was invited to give a brief presentation to the group, which can be found below. The presentation focused on how investing in people at the local level is key to creating a sustainable civic data infrastructure. CTCL was honored to be invited to participate and looks forward to being involved with the continued efforts of the technologists, policymakers, and advocates that were in attendance!