Tagged: Elections Nova Scotia

Attention #NSPoli geeks: those tardy poll-by-poll results are finally in

Elections Nova Scotia quietly posted the poll-by-poll results of  the October 8 Nova Scotia election on its website last Thursday

6-PhuddPreliminary poll-by-poll results are normally released immediately after the vote, but this year, for the first time in living memory, elections bureaucrats decided to keep the detailed results to themselves for three weeks. The only explanation offered was that the Chronicle-Herald wasn’t interested in publishing them (as it had traditionally), so Chief Electoral Officer Richard P. Temporale decided no one else could have them either.

Aside from this inexcusable delay, the agency did a good job of presenting the tallies, making them available in both PDF format, with accompanying maps of the polling districts, and as a zip file* of 51 Excel spreadsheets, plus a riding-by-riding summary.

(In the past, Elections Nova Scotia has sometimes deliberately degraded the electronic files it makes public, so as to make them all but impossible for researchers to use. This retrograde practice has eased somewhat since Temporale ascended to the throne.)

I look forward to seeing what map geeks can do with these spreadsheets. Elections Nova Scotia publishes mapping shapefiles on its website for the 51 electoral districts, but alas, not for individual polling districts. It’s possible these might be available on request, but Contrarian may not be the best person to ask.

[*Note: I have not linked directly to the zip file, because I expect doing so would trigger spam filters to reject the daily emailed version  of Contrarian (see “Subscribe to Contrarian” at right). To download the zip file, click here, and then on the words, “Excel format” in the third bullet point.]

Elections NS will hold back poll-by-poll results until month’s end

In a break with decades of past practice, Nova Scotia elections officials say they will withhold detailed results of the October 7 8 election for almost a month. In previous provincial elections, newspapers published poll-by-poll results a day or two after the vote.

At a time when the internet has encouraged governments of all shapes and sizes to be more forthcoming with useful data, Elections Nova Scotia is moving in the opposite direction.

Dana Phillip Doiron, director of policy and communications, declined to explain the policy change except to say the Chronicle-Herald “had no interest” in publishing this election’s poll-by-poll results, and Chief Electoral Officer Richard P. Temporale decided to wait until official results are ready at month’s end.

Differences between the preliminary and official results are usually small, and rarely affect the outcome in any riding.

Doiron declined to let Contrarian publish preliminary poll-by-poll results, and did not respond to a request for an interview with the Temporale.

For those who weren’t around, it’s hard to capture the degree to which this reversal of longstanding openness about election results represents a throwback to attitudes that prevailed in Nova Scotia’s bureaucracy 40 years ago. It’s like walking into government office and finding shag carpet on the floor, lava lamps on the desks, and Wayne Newton on the P.A.

To be sure, some government departments still work hard to avoid disclosing embarrassing information, exploiting loopholes in the Freedom of Information law and the near total breakdown of its enforcement in the province. It’s a standard damage control tactic.

But this is different. Nothing in the poll-by-poll results could conceivably embarrass Temporale or his agency. He is withholding the information because he can. He has decided, in his wisdom, that we don’t need to have it, notwithstanding keen interest among political geeks eager to dig into it.

Father knows best. Mere citizens can wait.

Forty years ago, Temporale’s instinctual proprietary impulse was nearly universal in Halifax. Bureaucrats regarded information in their custody as personal property, and citizens seeking access to it as unworthy supplicants.

Ironically, election results were always an exception to these attitudes of yore. Unlike Elections Nova Scotia of 2013, responsible officials in the ’50s and ’60s saw the prompt release of election results as their duty.

Here is Contrarian’s email exchange with Doiron:

From: Parker Donham
Sent: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 10:59 PM
To: Doiron, Dana P
Subject: poll-by-poll results

Hi Dana,

In almost 40 years of covering and following NS elections, I cannot ever recall it taking so long to see poll-by-poll returns. In years past, they were in the paper within two days of the election. What gives?

(I just checked the http://results.electionsnovascotia.ca/ website, and at this moment, it appears to be down. http://electionsnovascotia.ca/ is functioning normally.)

Cheers,
Parker

From: “Doiron, Dana P”
Subject: RE: poll-by-poll results
Date: 16 October, 2013 11:56:40 AM ADT
To: ‘Parker Donham’

The poll by poll results will be published at the end of the month. The website is working fine for me. Unsure of source of your problem.

D.

From: Parker Donham
Sent: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:44 PM
To: Doiron, Dana P
Subject: Re: poll-by-poll results

It was probably a momentary thing, and quite possibly at me end

Why on earth are you taking so long to publish the results?

Sent from my iPhone

From: “Doiron, Dana P”
Subject: RE: poll-by-poll results
Date: 16 October, 2013 12:48:48 PM ADT
To: ‘Parker Donham’

The poll by poll results you may have seen in the past are the unofficial count before “official addition” and the return of the writ. The Herald customarily published them within a couple of days of election night. The Herald had no interest in doing that this election. The CEO decided to publish the official results, poll-by-poll, as quickly as possible, together with maps and other data.

D

From: Parker Donham
Sent: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 1:38 PM
To: Doiron, Dana P
Subject: Re: poll-by-poll results

Dana,

Contrarian is interested in publishing them. Can I get them?

Cheers,
Parker

Sent from my iPhone

From: “Doiron, Dana P”
Subject: RE: poll-by-poll results
Date: 16 October, 2013 2:25:04 PM ADT
To: ‘Parker Donham’

Not until we’ve published them.

d

From: Parker DonhamSubject:
Re: poll-by-poll results
Date: 16 October, 2013 4:28:57 PM ADT
To: “Doiron, Dana P”

Hi Dana:

Can you offer any explanation why? This data has previously been available much sooner. I just find the change in policy mystifying. Most organizations are publishing their data quicker now that it is so easy to do so on the Internet. Elections NS seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

If the answer is that it’s what the Chief Electoral Officer decided, could you please arrange an interview with him for tomorrow?

Thanks very much,
Parker

[As of this posting, there was no response.]

Dear Elections NS: Where are the poll-by-poll results?

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 10.02.03 PMThe election took place a week ago, but Elections Nova Scotia has still not published the poll-by-poll results from each riding. This, despite a notice on the agency’s website (see right) promising to post them by last Friday.

In past elections, newspapers carried the poll-by-poll results two days after the vote, if not the very next day.

These were understood to be unofficial results. Minor adjustments inevitably followed before the final, official results were published in a booklet. But the preliminary totals have always been public information.

Elections Nova Scotia obviously has the numbers. Why is it withholding them?

I suspect we will hear some song and dance about waiting until they deem the results “final” or “official,” as if the nabobs of Elections Nova Scotia possess some special wisdom and maturity to handle preliminary data that would send ordinary Nova Scotians into paroxysms of… well, of what, exactly?

This attitude would be of a piece with the creeping authoritarianism that seems to have overtaken Elections Nova Scotia—illustrated by the kneecapping of its political donations reports  (a misstep it partially relented on this summer), and the bully boy hissy fit it threw in response to a small handful of ballot snapshots.

How I voted… and voted… and voted

It all began with this:

Ballot

Then this and this in rapid succession:

2-TT

3-unsteady

One smart-ass tweeter caught the Elections NS spirit:

4-fine

The results from Needham:

7-Needham

Not all ballot makers are created equal:

8-homemade

6-Phudd

Here’s a spelling-challenged ballot forger:

5-Spelling

Ballot-making as political speech:

8B-Homemade2

This guy voted three times:

9A-Inv-MacMaster

9C-Inv-smith

9B-Inv-Rankin

I don’t know. Those Xs look suspiciously familiar.

Feel free to send us your proof of voting facsimile.

 

Who gave how much to whom at what cost to taxpayers

Now that we have freed the 2011 election donations data from the deadening grasp of Elections Nova Scotia, there’s no end to the interesting things one can do with it. For example:

In 2011, 4130 Nova Scotians…

Donated $1,057,213.29…

Of which 90.18% (amounts up to $750 per person) could be used as a Nova Scotia provincial tax credit.

Economists call this a tax expenditure. If donors did not receive a credit against  taxes they owed, the province would have raised $953,451 more revenue.

Personally, I think that’s a small price to pay to get corporate, union, and large private donations out of the business of financing election campaigns.

At the federal level, the Harper Conservatives are taking the opposite approach, ending public election financing, a change that will increase the role wealthy individuals, corporations, and unions will play in future Canadian elections.

Money & politics: The map Elections NS didn’t want you to see

Here at last is Contrarian’s searchable map of 2011 political donations in Nova Scotia:

[Direct link to map] Each dot represents a donation. The dots are color-coded by party: orange (and brown) for NDP; red for Liberal; blue for PC; green for Green; and white for Atlantica. The larger dots stand for donations of $1,000 or more. Clicking on an individual dot reveals a pop-up table listing the name and address of the donor, the party to whom they donated, and the amount and type of donation. Use the + and – slider on the left side of the map to zoom in and out; click and drag the map to focus on a particular town or neighborhood.

The 2011 map is more complete that the 2010 map [direct link], because it includes donations to riding associations and byelection candidates as well as to the provincial parties, which the 2010 map does not.

For those who have not followed the issue, Contrarian’s election map project began when Elections Nova Scotia degraded the usefulness of the annual donations report it is required by law to release. It did this with an unannounced switch from the standard, searchable, text-grabbable PDF files it had traditionally used, to a scanned PDF file consisting of images that cannot be searched or copied to a text file or spreadsheet.

When Contrarian complained about the change, then-Chief Elections Officer Christine McCulloch responded with a bracing declamation on the paramount importance of privacy, coupled with an admonition that election donation data is no longer all that important to voters, now that corporations and unions are barred from contributing, and individuals are limited to $5000.

This is an attitude as old as bureaucracy. Even in a democracy, functionaries like McCulloch and her successor, who has so far continued her practice of kneecapping the data, quickly form the impression that the information they gather and manage on our behalf belongs to them.

It does not. It belongs to us, particularly when  it concerns a matter so vital as the impact of money on elections.

With help from many readers, Contrarian responded by republishing the 2010 data in the searchable, text-grab-friendly format used in previous years’ reports, then as an Excel spreadsheet, and finally, after some delay, as a searchable map. We also produced examples of interesting ways you could view election donation data once it was geocoded.

This is a tedious process, with most of the tedium arising from the inept, citizen-unfriendly way Elections Nova Scotia publishes its reports. Deliberate degrading by the use of scanned PDFs is part of the problem, but only part. The commission also divides each spreadsheet into individual page-sized chunks, so the document ends up containing more than 100 separate tables.

This year, these problems were compounded by the Liberal Party’s discovery, after the initial election donations report was published, that it had made a mistake in its filing. The party promptly refiled the correct information. The commission responded, not as any rational organization would do, by publishing a revised and corrected report, but by republishing the original report, still containing the same, incorrect Liberal data, and appending the correct Liberal data in 19 separate tables at the end.

A spokesperson said the commission had handled the mistake in this way on the advice of its lawyer, who, it seems, comes from the firm Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest.

[Placeholder: One of the most far-reaching and helpful reforms any government could implement would be to persuade bureaucrats they don’t always have to follow the advice of government lawyers, particularly when that advice is patently wrongheaded and flies in the face of common sense and the organization’s mission.]

DISCLAIMER: There are almost certainly some small errors in this map. Errors may arise from when the parties transcribe and report the numbers, when Elections NS assembles and publishes its report, during the optical character recognition (OCR) process required to liberate the data, and from the manual transfer of more than 100 separate tables published by the commission into a single spreadsheet.

One common error arises when a party lists both a donor’s civic address and their postal box. Sometimes these are in different communities, and Google cannot correctly geocode them. In one case, we found (and corrected will soon correct finally corrected) a donor from Fall River NS whom Google placed in Fall River, Massachusetts. In another, a postal code error moved a donor from Petit de Grat to a wilderness location deep in the Cape Breton Highlands.

Please report any errors you notice by email to comment [at] contrarian.ca.

Hearty thanks to Contrarian’s fusion table guru, WCR, without whom these maps would never have sprung to life. How about a nice lunch at Chicken Burger some respectful restaurant?

More views of money and politics in Nova Scotia

When information is presented in a format computer programs can read, as opposed to a static, telephone directory-style list, fresh insights spring from the data. Contrarian friend Gus Reed prepared a compendium of revelations arising from Elections Nova Scotia’s annual political donations report—once we liberated it from the cloistered format favored by the former Chief Electoral Officer.

Some examples:

  • Does Nova Scotia have a party of the rich? Not according to the donations made in 2010. When Gus plotted the proportion of donations against their size, all three major parties showed a remarkably similar distributions:

  • Vote tallies for the three major parties in the last several elections have shown sharp geographical variations. Is the same true of people who donated to political parties in 2010?  Here’s a list of the top 10 cities and towns whose residents contributed to each party.

Draw your own conclusions. Gus’s report has more of this, including a list of everyone who gave more than $1000 to a Nova Scotia political party in 2010. Download it here.

Elections Nova Scotia plans to release the list of 2011 political donations today [Update: Or not]. Wouldn’t it be great if the new Chief Electoral Officer could find his way clear to releasing the data in a format that makes searching for insights easy rather than hard?

A Contrarian map of politics and money in Nova Scotia

In a series of posts last September, Contrarian revealed that Nova Scotia’s Chief Electoral Officer had degraded the format used to report political donations over $50. For the first time, she released the file as a scanned PDF that cannot be searched or readily copied to other formats.

Helpful Contrarian readers promptly hacked* McCulloch’s degraded files, enabling us to republish the data in the searchable, text-grab-friendly format used in previous years’ reports. Today’s long overdue follow-up provides the data in two new, even more useful and interesting formats:

  • An Excel spreadsheet readers can view, parse, and re-use in ways limited only by their imaginations and programming chops.**
  • An interactive Google Map showing every donation to a registered Nova Scotia political party in 2010.

[Direct link to map] Dots on the map are color-coded by party: orange for NDP, red for Liberal, blue for Tories. The larger dots stand for donations over $1,000. Clicking on an individual dot brings up the donor’s name and address, and the amount of the donation. Use the + and – slider on the left side of the map to zoom in and out; click and drag the map to focus on a particular town or neighborhood.

Over the next day or two, I’ll post some other useful ways of visualizing this data, produced by a particularly creative Contrarian reader.

Google is not perfect. It has trouble geo-coding rural route addresses and post office boxes, so these sometimes appear in odd places or even as overlapping donations sharing a single location.***  The optical character recognition (OCR) process required to decode Elections Nova Scotia’s deliberately degraded file may have introduced a few errors into the data. If you notice any, please use the comment link at the top of this page to let me know, and I’ll try to correct them.

I expect political junkies will find playing with the map mildly diverting. Is it also important (as I maintain) or dangerous (as Election Nova Scotia professes to believe)?

Chief Electoral Office Christine McCulloch, since retired, contended that crippling her legally required disclosure report was necessary “to protect contributors from ‘data-mining.’” In fact, Nova Scotia law contains no such requirement, and the one judicial precedent runs counter to her policy. In a moment of hyperbole this week, an Elections Nova Scotia official offered the preposterous suggestion that  the spreadsheet I am releasing today could even be abet identity theft.

About the worst that could happen is that someone could — could, but probably won’t — use the spreadsheet to develop a direct mail solicitation list. A company wanting to do that probably has access to more sophisticated OCR tools than Contrarian. As a practical matter, the Elections Nova Scotia’s lockdown only impedes ordinary Nova Scotians seeking to use the data in creative, citizenly ways.

Earlier this month, the President of the United States issued an executive order directing all federal departments to implement application programming interfaces, commonly known as APIs, to give software developers direct access to their public data. This will lead to creative, entrepreneurial uses of public data that enhances its value to the people who paid for it.

In Nova Scotia, we’re moving in the opposite direction, responding to overblown privacy concerns by locking up data that used to be freely available. This is a recipe for turning our province, which overflows with digital programming talent, into a information age backwater.

I hope Nova Scotia’s new Chief Electoral Officer will reconsider this policy with an open mind. More importantly, I hope cabinet ministers and senior officials will consider the economic and cultural benefits that will accrue if their departments ease their grip on the many kinds of data they gather.

[UPDATE II:] Elections Nova Scotia plans to release the 2011 political donations data Friday.

– – –

* Many readers contributed time and skill to this effort. Hearty thanks to JS, PGH, WF, NMK, and most especially, mapping guru WCR.

** The spreadsheet only lists donations to registered provincial political parties. It does not include donations to individual riding associations or to candidates in the 2010 Glace Bay byelection. The manner in which Elections Nova Scotia tabulates these simply makes it too much work.

*** An interesting example is the large orange dot just south of TransCanada 104 east of Antigonish. Clicking it sometimes brings up John “Nova” Chisholm’s $2,500 donation to the NDP (!); and sometimes Carl Hartigan’s $1,000 donation to that party. The two men have post office boxes and very similar postal codes. You may have to zoom in and out to different resolutions to see both donations. [UPDATE I:] Hartigan, I’m told, is a close associated of John Nova’s.

 

Chief Electoral Obfuscation Officer

Before the end of June, each year, Nova Scotia law requires the Chief Electoral Officer to a publish all the political contributions made in the previous year. For the years 2007, 2008, and 2009, Christine McCulloch complied with the law, posting the information to the Elections Nova Scotia website in a manner that was accessible, searchable, printable, and even, with effort, downloadable to a citizen’s own database.

This gave every citizen the tools to determine whether contractors who won big roadbuilding contracts, storeowners who won liquor commission franchises, or communications consultants (like me!) who were selected for Communications Nova Scotia’s Standing Offer List were also disproportionate donors to the governing party (or any other party). The system was accountable, transparent, and fully compliant with the law and with the province’s website accessibility standards.

This summer, McCulloch quietly kneecapped it.

The data is still there; It’s just that McCulloch has deliberately impaired the citizen’s ability to access it in a useful way. The 2010 political donations appear in a locked, graphic PDF file. This means a citizen can read it, but can’t search for a name, address, donation amount, or any other information it contains, other than by leafing through it. It’s as if Canada411 replaced its searchable database with a hard copy phone book.

In an email, Elections Nova Scotia spokesman Dana Philip Doiron defended the change on grounds that the agency  is ”bound by the Privacy Act, which requires that we guard against misuse of private information — names, addresses, etc.’ [My emphasis.] Doiron didn’t say whether he meant the Nova Scotia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP), or the federal Privacy Act. The latter has no application to the provincial government. Since the Chief Electoral Officer reports to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, it’s extremely doubtful whether the provincial act applies either, even if one excepts the dubious claim that the FOIPOP Act prohibits release of names and addresses specifically mandated by another act.

In any case, the new restrictions don’t shield the names and addresses of donors. They’re all there for anyone willing to take the time and effort to find them. They’re just unsearchable and un-copyable. This makes the information less useful to citizens, researchers, and reporters. Whether McCulloch’s retreat from accessibility is an actual violation of the law requiring disclosure, or merely an affront to its spirit, a skeptical citizen would be forgiven for concluding that she deliberately chose a method of publication that would subvert accessibility, openness, and transparency. The fact that the news release announcing the 2010 donations list failed to disclose the change, and that it listed a link to the document that does not function, doesn’t increase confidence.

It’s extremely disappointing that Ms. McCulloch would behave like this. If the Nova Scotia’s Chief Electoral Officer won’t stand up for transparent and accessible disclosure of political donations, who the heck will?

H/T: Wallace McLean

Greens face imminent deregistration – Update

elections-report1

Chief Electoral Officer Christine McCulloch’s annual report has been posted, and it confirms our report last week that she has initiated deregistration proceedings against the Green Party for failure to comply with financial disclosure laws.

As the chart above shows, the failure appears to be complete across the board: No audited financial statements, no public access thereto, and no copies or accounting of tax receipts. The Green Party of Nova Scotia received $133,469.90 in public financing last year.

McCulloch’s report doesn’t say when deregistration will take effect, but over the weekend  party officials told contrarian they had until July 17 to avoid losing official party status.

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