November 7, 2007

Election Data Archive: Tough to
find but worth the effort

Sacramento State’s California Election Data Archive makes it a lot easier to track voting trends in local races. Now, if only more people knew about the service.

The project, launched 12 years ago as a partnership between the University’s Center for California Studies and the Institute for Social Research, and the Secretary of State’s Office, collates and analyzes the results from local elections in 58 counties, 475 cities and more than 1,100 school and community college districts. If someone needs to know how many school bond measures passed last year, or what the incumbent re-election rate is, the archive has the information they need.

The project began in 1995 as the brainchild of Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies. Hodson saw a need for such a service during his previous job as a consultant with the state Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee, which routinely received requests for information about local land-use, education bonds and other ballot measures. At that time, the only option was to call each county or city individually.

When Hodson came to Sacramento State, he found a willing partner for the project with Carol Barnes, then director of the Institute for Social Research. “It’s been working nicely ever since,” Hodson says.

Now, all the information is in one place, but connecting with it on the Secretary of State’s official website is difficult, Hodson says. Hodson would like to improve the visibility of the data archive so more people can make use of it.

During the next year, he and Ernest Cowles, present director of the Institute for Social Research, hope to spread the word about the service through scholarly works, op-ed pieces and other efforts.

The process of collating all this information requires more than just a few clicks on counties’ websites. Telephone calls and letters are exchanged between project staff and county and city election officials. Sometimes items are missing from the data, or more clarification is needed. “There’s a lot of back-and-forth with the county and city clerks’ offices,” Cowles says.

The institute collects and organizes the data and both entities analyze the information, with Hodson focusing on the specific year, and Cowles looking at long-range trends.

One development from 2006 that seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom is the support demonstrated for tax measures. There were 142 local measures to increase taxes, and 79 of them, 56 percent, were approved. Neither Cowles nor Hodson are that surprised, though.

“I think people are more likely to support tax measures where they can see a local result,” Cowles says. Hodson echoes that sentiment, saying that a general tax increase is likely to be turned down, but if the measure is designated for a specific project or purpose, such as road improvements or fire protection, “voters will tax themselves.”

Hopefully Cowles and Hodson won’t find it too taxing to spread the word about this important service. “We’re the only ones in the state who do this,” Hodson says. “This is a great resource.”

To contact the archive, visit www.csus.edu/calst/cal_studies/CEDA.html or call the Center for California Studies at (916) 278-6906. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.