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Women-led advocacy group uses power of maps to encourage people to vote

Next week, Americans will have the opportunity to vote in what is fast coming to known as the most important elections in US history. The term every vote counts is especially true in the swing states, which have often held key to the US elections, including the last one.

This interactive map from People for the People, a volunteer advocacy group that arose from the Black Girls M.A.P.P. employee resource group at Esri, highlights states that have had elections determined by a close number of votes.

maps to encourage people to vote

The darker the color of the states, the higher the frequency of close elections. States with no color historically hadn’t had any close election. As we can see, almost every state has encountered at least one very close election, which has important implications.

The map identifies nine states as swing states – states where both parties have similar levels of support and could swing either way. And we all know how swing states are key for any presidential candidate to get the required 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. As recently as 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Donald Trump won the Presidency by managing to get more electoral seats with razor-thin margins in six swing states.

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People for the People

People for the People is a women-led, volunteer advocacy group born out of the idea that when people feel that politics doesn’t represent them, they tend to become discouraged and tune out the process, no matter their party affiliation. Using the power of maps and data, the group is encouraging, educating and empowering more and more citizens to be part of the voting process and exercise their rights. The initiatives include making the elections personal by telling very focused, data-driven stories about policies that affect a variety of communities historically excluded from positions of power through the lens of maps. 

maps to encourage people to vote
Over 50 new mapping and data visualization applications have been built tailored to foster community engagement

“With everything that’s happened in 2020, we wanted to do something, to act,” says Whitney Kotlewski, Design Lead and Operations Program Manager at Esri. “We started People for the People to contribute to change, by creating a space for understanding and education around civic issues.”

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So far, 50-plus new mapping and data visualization applications have been built tailored to foster engagement from communities about issues that directly impact them, while providing the resources and information to help them make informed decisions. There is a Who’s Running app, which has been built with Esri mapping and developer tools, streamlining the experience for finding candidates for the House or Senate near one’s current location or address in the US. A user can also filter the map based on party affiliation or demographics like race and gender, and click any candidate to directly access their campaign website and social media. 

maps to encourage people to vote
A user can find the candidates for the House or Senate near one’s current location

There is a section called key voting issues in 2020 with topics such as criminal justice , healthcare or the environment, listing out stories on the issues, interactive timelines with key moments in history related to that topic, and the underlying data to learn more. The initiative also strives to highlight the key roles that women, non-binary individuals, and people of color have played in advancing these causes.

As Raynah Kamau, Technical Advisor at Esri, says, GIS is an especially powerful technology for providing the context and information needed to bring about informed action. “Bringing together members of the GIS community to volunteer their time to build these maps and apps has been an especially rewarding experience and has produced a tool set that I know will help the electorate for many elections to come.” 

It’s hard to think of any other American election which has been so polarized. At least in recent times. And with COVID exacerbating the situation on both economic and social fronts, things haven’t looked as bleak as this for a long, long time.  With indications that there could be more young people exercising their franchise this time – with their education and job prospects disrupted — this may turn out to be an interesting election. And as always swing states will hold the key.


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