This tweet from the Open Elections Project is going viral in the kingdom of political nerdom today:
City of Detroit produced a lookup tables for its absentee precincts in 2016. It’s in Excel. But wait for it: the values are CLIP ART. pic.twitter.com/pzsPbjvc6j
— OpenElections (@openelex) April 17, 2017
and for good reason.
Few of the headaches that election researchers encounter have the bonus of at least being amusingly awful. On election night, we’ve had numerous faxes sent upside down and even backwards (I’m at a total loss to explain how you even pull that off) with scanned copies so dark you can’t tell which county or municipality even sent them. But after election night, groups like Open Elections try to acquire, document and distribute results, some decades old, and the madness explodes exponentially.
Results are so difficult to come by because many election authorities lack a database of returns, precincts, and related data beyond scanned PDFs (which need to be parsed on the precinct level manually in many cases). While some large counties have downloadable precinct or result data going back decades in a host of easy-to-parse formats, the size and relative importance of a county is no guarantee it won’t be a headache. Wayne County is one of the most populated in the United States, but it’s largest city couldn’t produce a straightforward Excel file.