II. MIT Election Data & Science Lab Update
MIT Election Lab launches new website and newsletter
By Claire DeSoi, communications assistant
MIT Election Data and Science Lab.
Perhaps you’ve already heard of the MIT Election Data & Science Lab (MEDSL), a relative newcomer on the elections scene – but even if you have, we’d love the chance to introduce ourselves to you. We are dedicated to supporting advances in election science, and to improving our collective understanding of how elections are administered. We collect, analyze, and share data on U.S. elections, and work with election officials and scholars around the country to apply new scientific research to the practice of democracy.
MEDSL grew out of the work that has been conducted at MIT over the past two decades to study the role of technology in elections, and to contribute research that advances the scientific side of election administration — a field now called election science. That work has been connected to two major initiatives. The first is the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, which will continue and will be supported administratively at MIT by MEDSL. The second was the work done by MEDSL’s founding director, Charles Stewart, as he worked with the Pew Charitable Trusts on a number of projects, most notably the Elections Performance Index (EPI) and the Survey of the Performance of American Elections.
When MEDSL began, we knew that we would need to share our work in a clear, accessible way with a wide range of readers, from academics to poll workers to voters. So, although the Lab has been at work for more than a year, we knew we needed to take that time to set up a foundation for our launch pad before we blasted off, so to speak. In that time, we’ve grown from two people to a team of staff, accompanied by a number of graduate and undergraduate researchers, and we now count the support and knowledge of a network of practitioner and academic experts. We’re now preparing some really exciting work that we’ll launch later this year — including an update to the EPI.
In March, we set a new website quietly loose on the world, without much fanfare, while we tested some of the features and got feedback from experts and users. Visitors since then have already seen it, but we officially launched it on May 10, and we encourage you to take some time to explore the information and features on it!
Ultimately, part of our mission is to ensure that information and research about elections and election administration is accessible to researchers, decision-makers, and folks who are just interested in how elections work in the United States. We’re proud to be working alongside a host of institutions and individuals to make that information available.
As we look forward, we’ll continue to shape the content on the MEDSL website to reflect our mission, and add to the growing field of election science. One of our top priorities is to identify and collect datasets that help fuel research — the data we collect and post to our site will stay there, free for use for scholars focused on U.S. elections. We’ll also continue linking to other resources and relevant open data sources, and will keep adding the tools we develop that make working with election data easier, like our R-package on GitHub.
At the same time that we’re diving into the data side of things, we think it’s important to demystify important concepts in election science, and to highlight new research. That means ensuring our website has a place that anyone can browse to find in-depth, rigorous reports from national or local experts or our own staff (like this new report measuring voting lines, which we worked on with the Bipartisan Policy Center), as well as straightforward, nonpartisan guides to key issues that matter to voters and policymakers.
We hope you’ll join the conversation on elections, whether you’re an academic, a local election official, or you simply care about using scientific methods to improve the ways elections work. We’ve also launched a blog on Medium and a quarterly newsletter to provide nonpartisan news and updates from the field of election science, and we hope you’ll subscribe and follow along. We’ll showcase our research, the accomplishments of the experts engaged in research or practice around the country, and innovative ideas about elections and election management. Sign up here to receive the newsletter and hear directly from MEDSL as we continue our work, or follow along on Medium or Twitter.