National data release sheds light on past polling place changes

Source: Carrie Levine, Pratheek Rebala, Matt Vasilogambros, Center for Public Integrity and Stateline, September 29, 2020

The first installment of a new national data release that will help journalists and researchers analyze polling place accessibility was released Tuesday as part of an investigative series, Barriers to the Ballot Box, from The Center for Public Integrity and Stateline. The data, posted to Github, includes polling place locations and addresses for 30 states for the 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 general elections, and is aimed at aiding reporting and research on the impact that polling place closures and changes could have on the 2020 election. Data for additional states will be added in the coming weeks.

Polling place reductions and changes can lower turnout by creating confusion and barriers for voters, potentially disenfranchising them. There is no national public dataset of polling place locations and addresses for past federal elections.

…The polling place location information, now in a usable data format, standardized and available to the public, can be used to track the movement and consolidation of polling places. Combined with other data, such as voter file data, it can shed new light on which voters were affected by the changes. …

…U.S. elections are administered by thousands of separate jurisdictions. Every state has different laws and deadlines governing voting, which can include unique requirements for polling places. Local authorities typically choose them based on a variety of factors.

Public Integrity and Stateline filed and tracked roughly 1,200 records requests to assemble the polling place location data.

In 12 states — Alabama, California, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming — data had to be obtained county by county for at least one of those elections….