Hawaii Encourages Voter Turnout with Open Data Visualizations

Customer: State of Hawaii

When Hawaiian-born Barack Obama sought the presidency in 2008, many expected record turnouts to support his candidacy. And, in a sense, those expectations were accurate, though in a surprising way. Hawaii actually reported the lowest turnout of any state during that election. In fact, fewer than half of all registered, eligible Hawaiian voters showed up to the polls.

As voter turnout in the Aloha State hit new lows, the extent to which Americans perceive money has an adverse effect on politics has risen to astronomical heights. According to a 2014 Global Strategy Group poll, 90 percent of Americans believe the influence of money in politics must be reduced. Unfortunately, an even larger percentage of people reportedly don’t believe money’s influence on politics will decrease. 

Is there a correlation between low voter turnout and high frustration with the system? If so, can government transparency and open data alleviate voter angst and encourage a return to the polls?

The State of Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission hopes to do just that — create greater faith in the electoral process with the release of all its political campaign income and expenditure data through two data visualization apps. 

“The Commission is charged with maintaining the integrity and transparency of the state’s campaign finance process,” according to Associate Director, Tony Baldomero, “And, educating the public is an integral part of the transparency process.” 

While the Campaign Spending Commission had posted its datasets to the state’s open data portal in early 2013, Baldomero went on to say, simply reporting campaign spending in a tabular format was not sufficiently enlightening Hawaii’s citizens. To better illustrate the meaning of this data, the Commission partnered with Socrata to develop both a Candidate Data Visualization and a Noncandidate Committee Data Visualization. Both apps are easily accessible from the Commission’s website and are populated in real time, thanks to Socrata’s inclusion of an API to directly move reporting data into the database. 

The first app visualizes the financial activity of candidates, creating pie charts of campaign contributions that allow citizens to see how much and what percentage of a selected candidate’s contributions are funded by individuals, noncandidate committees, political parties, and other donors. The app also compares the percentages of both in and out-of-state contributions made to the selected candidate’s campaign, specifying state and zip code, and even mapping the location of origin. Citizens can also review charts of a candidate's spending, showing what monies were allocated for advertising, food and beverage, printing, professional services, surveys/polls/voter lists, etc., as well as what monies were spent in Hawaii versus out-of-state. 

“In all, the Candidate Data Visualization app includes 10 charts,” said Baldomero, “The Noncandidate Committee app offers those same 10 [but for committees, including Super PACs] and adds three more. The first of those additional visualizations shows fundraiser notices, which includes contributions to all events charging more than $25 dollars, the event’s date, and who was in charge of it. The other two break up contributions to candidates by office and by party.” 

The apps visualize information about all state and county filings. The datasets and schematics were created by the State of Hawaii, and Socrata built the visualizations. 

“Whatever the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission is statutorily required to collect is now available through these apps,” Baldomero reports. “We hope our counterparts in other states will recognize the value of what we are doing and duplicate our efforts by visualizing their own campaign fundraising and spending data.” To that end, Hawaii will present both apps at the December 2014 Council On Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) Conference

“We are already seeing the benefits of these apps. For example, fewer phone calls are coming in from the public. And, we are seeing a real uptick in the number of journalists reporting on this data,” said Baldomero. “An increase in news articles on the data the Campaign Spending Commission collects means we are achieving our goal to better inform the voters of Hawaii.” 

The Campaign Spending Commission’s Executive Director, Kristin Izumi-Nitao went further to say, “These projects are important to us, as a means to increase transparency by transforming and showcasing campaign finance reports in a more visually attractive, user-friendly, and dynamic way. 

The Commission fully appreciates the need to modernize the electoral experience to increase citizen engagement and political accountability. We are very fortunate to have partners such as Socrata who can help us achieve greater voter interest through technology.”