There's been a lot of buzz over the past few years about how GIS is
democratizing everything. The power to peek at your neighbors' backyards,
strip mines, and refugee camps has been called democracy. Maybe it is, or at
least is raw material for democracy. Myself, right now, I'm more concerned
about political equality and the right to participate in choosing
representatives in government. Bottom line: does GIS enfranchise us? If not,
all this democratization talk is just hot air.
There are at least three phases of the US election process that might involve GIS:
Districting. Is GIS mainly used to produce fair, competitive, districts
that encourage compromise and consensus? Or is it used to produce "safe" districts where the minority lives under semi-permanent tyranny?
Campaigning. Is GIS mainly used to find first-time or infrequent voters and educate them about issues? Is it used in coordinating dirty tricks such as voter-suppression robo-calls, or bogus calls about polling place changes?
Voting. Is GIS used to bring extra staff and equipment to needy districts so that voting can proceed quickly and efficiently? Or is it being used to short-change particular districts based on their location and demographics?
The balance is going to vary greatly across the US. After all we do have thousands of independent elections going on, all of them with their own unique procedures, standards, and equipment. It's a completely amateur operation, to be honest, and susceptible to ineptitude and corruption. Is GIS making the situation better, or worse?
For what it's worth, I have a personal anecdote. I did volunteer GIS work in 2004 for local and state compaigns, mainly helping to coordinate canvassing. Simple maps and geocoders astounded and boggled the staffers. "You can take a list of addresses and map them?! Right in front of us?! In seconds?!" Other than my various hacks, there was no GIS employed by these campaigns at all. I couldn't believe how geographically half-assed they were. Still, we managed to go 3-2 :)