Why we care about elections

(and why you should, too)

Oh, that word. Elections. Did an involuntary shiver just run down your spine?

How about: voting?

Hanging chads?

Whether you’re preparing for the next election, still recovering from the last one, or wondering if it matters at all, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

We’re MIT’s Election Data & Science Lab (MEDSL), and — well, we’re not here to help you, exactly. We’re here to help us, all of us, understand elections a little bit better. Why? So that the ways we conduct them can get a little bit better for everyone.

All sorts of politicos and data nerds are busy scrutinizing and analyzing election results from back to front — which is amazing! — but that isn’t what we do. We aren’t here to tell you who’s going to win, or who should have won, or what the poll numbers predict. We study election administration; we collect, analyze, and share data that shows how elections happen. We look hard at how they function, where technology comes into play, and what effects different tools and policies have.

We’re data-driven, committed to maintaining high scientific standards, and always nonpartisan.

That isn’t to say we never look at election results, where they’re relevant to our work. For example, if you follow us on Twitter (you should follow us on Twitter), you might have seen our recent special elections coverage. Or you might have seen our links to emerging research on Americans’ perceptions on election hacking, and how those perceptions split along partisan lines. This kind of research, while it doesn’t directly examine how elections are run, has a definite impact on our work. Mostly, though, we’re focused on using science to improve our understanding of the processes and policies we use in the US to cast and count votes. That’s what informs the growing list of issue explainers on our website, as well as the original research we’re still working on.

And we aren’t alone. We’re working hard to bring together a network of scholars and election officials who are doing the same thing. Our goal is to foster relationships and conversations between everyone who’s bringing scientific research into the practice of democracy in the United States. Our work is just getting started, but we’re excited to be working alongside some of the best minds in election science.

We hope you’ll bookmark our blog here and visit us again as we post more stories about our work! Keep a weather eye out for posts on the awesome data science, research, and events our staff and colleagues are involved in. “Election administration” might sound dull and dusty, but between new technology and good old-fashioned politics, it’s more important than ever. We look forward to exploring with you how we can use it to improve elections and the health of our democracy overall.

Claire DeSoi is the communications director for the MIT Election Data + Science Lab.


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