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While the bulk of the fields in a voter data file establish the ‘who’ of the electorate, vote history helps answer the remainder of any questions researchers and analysts might have. This piece of the information puzzle reveals not only whether a registered voter has participated in an election but also the details of their engagement—the what, when, where, and how of their ballot cast.

At its core, vote history data captures very foundation of our election system—the act of casting a ballot. It serves as a record of individual participation in the electoral process. Each entry in this dataset represents more than just a tabulated ballot; it symbolizes a citizens sacred right to vote.

While most previous data elements were limited to a single field, vote history comes in many shapes and sizes, with most states representing it differently. If it can be deciphered, researchers and analysts can unlock a wealth of knowledge about electoral behavior and trends. This data ideally includes a record for each voter that includes the following points:

  • Election name/type – Usually combined into an election name code, there will typically be an element that indicates the name and type of the election. It could be coded like PE (Primary Elections), GE (General Election), or it could be a combination of an election type and date (11/06/2020, General) or a number of other combinations but ultimately this indicates the type and usually the date of the election
  • Vote Credit – Did this individual cast a ballot? This generally looks like a row or a field in the data where if the individual voted there is some type of indicator, usually an election name or date but can also be represented as the existence of a row in a voter history file, or it could be marked with an X or vote type in a single column.
  • Vote type/how voted – This information will indicate if the registrant voted in-person, early, absentee, or provisional.
  • Voting location – Where was the ballot cast? What county or precinct did the voter reside in when the ballot was cast. This information is much more rare to find, but is usually represented by a county or precinct name if it exists.

With an overview of what can make up a voter history record, we can look at what information can be extrapolated from the data. One example that is useful is the method of voting. Did a voter cast their ballot in person on Election Day, or did they opt for early or absentee voting? Each choice tells a story—a tale of accessibility, convenience, duty, and (more recently) political influence. Analyzing these preferences can help researchers and analysts predict in-person turnout or target specific voters to remind them to mail their ballot in.

Moreover, vote history data related to primary elections can help with partisan demographic analysis, especially in states that may not require voters to register with a political party. In a primary election, voters reveal their partisan leanings, selecting the ballot of their preferred political party. This choice speaks volumes about individual political identity and ideological alignment, providing valuable insights for political strategists and analysts alike.

For political campaigns, vote history data is like a map, guiding them through the maze of electoral strategy. Knowledge of voters’ past engagement allows campaigns can tailor their outreach efforts with relative precision. They identify reliable voters, ensuring they receive targeted messages and reminders to cast their ballots. Swing voters can be sent personalized appeals aimed at swaying their allegiance (and filling their mailboxes with pamphlets and flyers daily weeks before a general election). Even non-voters are not forgotten, as campaigns and advocacy groups deploy persuasive tactics to inspire them to join the ranks of the engaged electorate. By understanding who participates and who remains on the sidelines, they can deploy targeted efforts to foster a culture of active citizenship and civic pride.

Overall, vote history is more than just a list of participation; it is a powerful tool to gather insight into the patterns of voters and the integrity of the voter registration system. There are many forms this data comes in, and the more pieces it contains, the more valuable the insights are.