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electionlineWeekly — August 4, 2016

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I. In Focus This Week

ACE is the place
State revamps Accountability in Colorado Elections website

by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">M. Mindy Moretti
electionline.org

At 14,400 feet, Mount Elbert — part of the Sawatch Mountain Range — is the highest peak in Colorado. If you add up and pile up all the data the Colorado secretary of state’s office collects each election cycle, it could rival Mount Elbert for height.

The state has compiled much of that information into ACE — Accountability in Colorado Elections — a website that allows anyone to view and translate the data sets into “actionable insights.”

“We collect so much information every day,” explained Judd Choate, director of elections for the Department of State. “We just needed to figure out a way to give that information to the people who may find it interesting. This is an effort to bridge the gap between what is officially available and the ease with which you can actually see it.”

ACE first launched in 2014 by the secretary of state’s office and recently the state revamped how it is presented with slick maps and easier to digest information.

“The original homepage was kind of the last thing we designed,” Choate explained. “We worked so much on the data pages and the underlying data, the homepage and launch page was the last thing and it didn’t look really good and wasn’t user friendly.”

Choate said they could see that they were losing a lot of visitors before going to another page so they partnered with a local web design firm — for not too much money he added — to make the site look better. He said there are still improvements to be made, but the relaunched product is a markedly better.

Much of the work for ACE was done in-house, but the state did partner with InstantAtlas to do the mapping. Interactive maps cover:

  • Voter registration statistics;
  • Voter registration by districts;
  • Voter turnout by party affiliation;
  • Election cost statistics;
  • Vote method and ballot statistics; and
  • Legal requirements + activities, which is sort of a catchall for everything else.

The financial cost to create ACE was minimal. Choate said they spent $20,000 for the original contract with InstantAtlas. There is also a $3,000 per year maintenance fee for the mapping. For the recent web redesign consultation, the state spent about $10,000.

What was not minimal was the staff time necessary to create ACE.

“You are going to have some pretty significant dedicated staff resources,” Choat said. He added, that one staff member spent about 75 percent of their time in the past two years working on the data for ACE.

However, once the site was up and running — and revamped — there was very little day-to-day oversight that the office has of it. Most of the queries for data and information are done automatically and uploaded automatically.

Moving forward, there are still some tweaks that the office would like to make on the site and Choate said they may narrow down the Legal requirements + activities section, but by-and-large they are happy with the current product and so it would seem are the people who are using it.

Choate said the site is being used by members of the media, candidates the advocacy community and average Coloradoans. Since the redesign, the state has seen the number of hits on the site increase and they are able to see that people are diving down into the site instead of just visiting the homepage.

With all the talk of rigged elections, perhaps sites like ACE are now more important than ever for state and county elections officials.

“If you want the people to trust the work you do, give them the information that will help them generate trust and show them that you are really doing great work and you have the data to show that,” Choate said.

And Choate and his team are happy to talk any election official through the process. They recently met with officials from Iowa who are considering doing something similar.

“If you want to do something like this, call us up,” Choate said.