Texas Tribune Reimagined Election Data
Entry type: Single project
Country/area: United States
Publishing organisation: The Texas Tribune
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 2022-11-07
Language: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalong
Authors: Carla Astudillo, Yuriko Schumacher, Emily Albracht, María Méndez, Caroline Covington, Mandi Cai, Alexa Ura
The Texas Tribune’s data visuals team includes **Carla Astudillo**, a senior designer/developer with a focus on elections and political data; designer/developers **Yuriko Schumacher** and **Mandi Cai**; and **Caroline Covington**, aTexas Tribune’s Scripps Howard Data Visualization fellow. **Emily Albracht** is a multidisciplinary designer who creates visual systems for our election products. **María Méndez** is a reporter focused on connecting with Texans to help them navigate politics and public policy and find the resources they need.
The Tribune seeks to empower informed participation in democracy, and we build tools to make voting easier. In 2022, our journalists set out to reimagine how we report election results. We know standard practices in newsrooms, such as prioritizing the horserace of vote counting over context, can sow confusion and mistrust.
We wanted to do better, with maps that emphasize political geography and accurately show Texas’ density; analysis of the impact of redistricting on outcomes; context about population growth that squares expectations with political reality and customizable results so every Texan can see who will represent them.
There are nearly 30 million people in Texas, but only 17.7 million are registered to vote — and just 8 million of them cast a ballot in the midterms. We know that by election day, it’s too late to help most Texans participate, and so we plan story and resource deadlines well before each election so Texans have the news they need, when they need it.
Our pre-election voter guide includes address search, a list of who is on your ballot, contact information for local elections administrators and maps of Texas’ new political districts. Our election explainers, which were supported by a Democracy SOS fellowship, answered reader questions about what the Railroad Commission actually regulates — it’s not trains — and how administrators keep ballots secure.
Data journalists know that land doesn’t vote — people do. Texas counties range from Harris, where more than a million people voted this year, to Loving, where 73 people voted. But on a standard election map, those counties are about the same size. Our developers redesigned our standard election map to show counties by size and political breakdown. We also riffed on a breakdown of counties by political affiliation that we first produced in 2020 — this time, with context on how many votes are left to be counted. These charts were on our results page and updated throughout the night. And, like all of our election products, the data is customizable so Texans can see the outcomes where they lived.
In all, these stories got nearly a million page views and helped readers across the state participate in the election.
The Texas Tribune’s election results are powered by a custom API that we use to track data for each election cycle, from the primary ballot page to our elected officials directory. This API is built in Django and maintained by Carla Astudillo, an accountability-minded designer/developer who is great at finding and proceeding data stories. On election nights, we partner with Decision Desk HQ for a feed of up to the minute results data. Our data story embeds and results pages are built in a Node.js environment with graphics made in D3 and Canvas.
Behind the scenes in all of our election products is an in-house political boundary tool that returns the districts for each address in Texas — an important feature in a year when voters were casting ballots in brand-new political districts.
For the engagement and reader service portions of our work, our audience team surveyed Texans across the state so we knew we were answering real questions from readers. In 2022, we hired translators and worked with local media to publish versions of our general election voter guide in Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese in order to reach a broader audience.
Context about the project:
There are nearly 30 million people in Texas, but only 17.7 million are registered to vote — and just 8 million of them cast a ballot in the midterms. We know that by election day, it’s too late to help most Texans participate, and so we plan story and resource deadlines well before each election so Texans have the news they need, when they need it. This work is essential in the fastest growing state in the country, where a decentralized political system and districts drawn to favor incumbents make participation difficult.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
More than anything, the Tribune’s election results are the product of collaborations. Internally, our data visuals, audience, design, engineering and editorial teams work closely together to make this work possible. We began this process with a group brainstorming session that was specifically designed for asynchronous participation, which facilitated both remote work and creativity.