The City Elections Project will transform an archive of the nation’s largest and most detailed collection of analogue historical elections data in the country -- Chicago -- into a publicly available digital dataset. The City Elections Project will feature mapping and data visualization as a form of data-driven storytelling and analysis on the history of Chicago politics.  In essence, this will create a historical FiveThirtyEight for city politics, helping lead a transformation of the study of urban political history.

Midterm Report

Project Goals

Create a research database and web interface to provide access to 5 years (1931, 1936, 1955, 1979, 1983) of historical election data (mayoral) from the city of Chicago. Create publicly available and consumable interactive visualizations of the GIS data from these digital records to show the change of wards/precincts over time and how voting trends changed to influence urban politics.

Current Status

The flat digital scans of the records have been digitized into a workable, database format and a template has been created for all future scans and years. We can then more easily ingest these data files in to the backend database. We have developed a web application for both screen and mobile devices in order to best utilize social media platforms’ key audiences. Audience personas have been created in order to ensure the broad applicability of the data and website. Data entry and creation of machine-readable data files has expanded the testbed from an initial five elections to an eventual eight, including both municipal and federal elections (1919, 1920, 1932).

Technical progress is currently at the stage where a single page application (SPA) architecture has been created in order to have both web and mobile access to the web interface. We have a working login/user system, a search function of the SQL relational database that has been created from the cleaned and digitized data discussed above, and an ability to download data by querying year, location, and vote (Fig. 1).  Client-side rendering and SPAs have the distinct advantage compared to a multi-page application in that there is only one request to a distant server before the client can view the entirety of a web application. We are using Angular to build the SPA and the front-end framework. This allows us to have a flexible SPA for both this and future City Projects and data. For example, certain features, like the drop-down select menu in the cities view, are incorporated in our design to include other cities later in this project. To finish off the front-end, we’re using the material library and material design guidelines to create a web interface that’s accessible to as many people as possible.

City Elections
Figure 1. Preliminary front-end of Chicago Elections Project database and web interface. Created with both mobile and web compatibility, we show the user-login to track access and data utilization (left), historical background information on each queried candidate (middle), and build flexibility for future projects/cities (right) making this a sustainable web interface and database for long-term historical election data.

We believe this web interface will appeal to three distinct groups of people. First, historians may be interested in reading concise texts on the cities and candidates stored in the database, while also having easy-to-use, downloadable data from the database. Secondly, individuals interested in data science would be most engaged by brief pop-up explanation of the tools used to create visualizations on this website. Lastly, giving users the ability to sign-in and send tweets using their pre-existing twitter accounts would appeal most to political activists looking to voice opinions. A current draft/example version of our database and web interface can be found here:

Initial visualizations of data from the elections of 1936 and 1983 have been performed. ArcGIS was used to combine election result data and shapefiles of precincts and wards from these years. We currently have visualizations of: 1936 congressional elections, 1936 federal elections, 1983 mayoral, and a combination of 1936 and 1983 election results and ward boundaries. We also have 1936 presidential elections by percent precinct won (Figs. 2, 3).

City Elections
Figure 2. 1936 Mayoral (left) and 1936 Federal Election results (right).
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Figure 3. 1983 mayoral election results (left) and 1983 mayoral election results mapped with 1936 ward boundaries to show progression of ward boundaries over time (right).
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Figure 4. 1936 election data visualized by percent won of the precinct based on candidate.
Next Steps

We are currently working on further web interface design and building. Interactive visualizations are in-process, as well as the integration of ArcGIS into the web interface so that the visualizations can be viewed static and interactively by the viewer. The web interface design and build is on-going while additional data is being digitized for the year 1919. At the centennial of the 19th amendment,  we are planning to do an additional visualization set to highlight how Chicago has changed as a result of women and African American voters being able to assert their political voice. We are coupling this with 1920 census data in order to showcase the landscape of Chicago during this important time in the history related to rights to vote.

This work on 1919 and 1920 lends itself to a great deal of social media engagement and material for several of the pitches we have planned for Chicago political journalists. Meanwhile, we are actively tweeting under the @ChiElections handle and the #cityelectionsproject. We will continue social media activity and increase postings as we get more finalized and visible content. We are on track for finishing all aspects described in the grant application and have been forward-thinking in the database and web interface design so that it can have long-term viability.