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 website, and at this moment, it appears to be down. is functioning normally.)


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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,

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

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.