Research: investigation into publishing open election data

Originally published on the Open Data Institute blog. Original URL:

A number of people at the ODI have recently been looking at the topic of open election data, asking how election results could be collected, reported and analysed in order to increase transparency and drive democratic engagement.

For example the technology team recently developed an approach to collaborative data collection using the European election data. In partnership with Deloitte, the research team conducted a project to explore potential applications of election data, which ultimately highlighted the issues with obtaining good quality election data.

Recognising the need for a better approach to publishing open election data we decided to explore the topic further. Supported by Partnership for Open Data, we went back to first principles to look at:

  • what types of data are used in electoral processes?
  • how is election data currently being reported internationally?
  • do the differences between different electoral systems impact how data is reported?
  • what data formats currently exist for sharing election data?

We’ve published the results of that research and analysis in a draft paper: Publishing Election Data.

The paper also introduces a simple conceptual model which could inform the design of data standards for open election data.

We also felt that there was scope to define some simple, customisable data formats that could be used to support reporting of election results internationally.

With that in mind we’ve also created a draft specification called “Election Data Tables” that defines some simple tabular formats for election results.

The github project includes some example data using election results from the UK, Albania and Zimbabwe to illustrate some uses of the format.

The specification is still at a very early stage and more work is required in various areas, including defining some schemas to support data validation. But the work is at a stage where it would be really useful to get external feedback and we’d like your input!

For example, if you’re working with, or publishing election data, does the format support your specific use cases?

If you’re interested then please take a read through the paper and the specification and let us know what you think. If you have any thoughts on the research paper then feel free to comment on the document or perhaps leave a note here. If you’d like to suggest amendments to the draft specification then please raise an issue on github or submit a pull request with your suggested changes.

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