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New VPAP maps brings powerful political data to the masses

Rosalind Helderman

Looking for a fun poolside activity during these long, warm days of summer?

Okay, admittedly, only if you're a big political wonk and like to bring your laptop to the pool.

Check out the new mapping functions introduced by the Virginia Public Access Project last week. The maps let viewers visually track voting histories in elections back to 2004, down to the precinct level. This is the kind of granular data that political consultants get paid big bucks to bring to candidates---and VPAP is now bringing to everyone, free of charge.

"We're always looking for ways to visualize data," said VPAP executive director David Poole. "There's only so many people who can spend so much time looking at rows and columns of numbers...One of the things we try to do is take public information that's out there and organize it in a better way."

VPAP's main goal is to serve as a non-partisan tracker of money in politics. Poole said the new maps are a logical extension of that goal, since they help illustrate how giving and spending impact election results and shed light on spending and fundraising decisions of candidates.

The maps can illustrate in dramatic fashion, for instance, the voting swing that took place in the 2009 gubernatorial race in Northern Virginia's suburban precincts. Take Crestwood precinct in Fairfax County's Springfield. Watch that precinct go from the lightest of blue in 2004, when voters there narrowly backed John Kerry for president, to deep blue in the 2005 gubernatorial race and the 2008 presidential. And then, for the very first time, to a light red last year, as voters backed Bob McDonnell over Creigh Deeds for governor.

And just wait for what VPAP's got coming for us next: Poole says the organization's software engineer Kathy Cashel is working on a "morphing" function for the maps, where different counties and precincts would physically grow or shrink on the map according to different data sets (say, population or political giving).

Click around on the new precinct maps and let us know your interesting finds in the state's voting histories in the comments section.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  June 2, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Rosalind Helderman  
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Once again, VPAP shows just what an asset they are to anyone who cares about what happens in VA!

Posted by: lydandy | June 2, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

VPAP is doing an awesome job especially for a organization that is largely private funded by supporters.

Especially important is their ability to track local elections as far as their limited finances can take them.

I'd like to see VPAP cover every county and every city local elections especially with regard to the contributions that local candidates receive and who from.

Posted by: larryg1 | June 2, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

This is probably the greatest asset I have ever seen for those like me who are fascinated by neighborhoods and their politics in Virginia and across the nation.

I first started looking at precinct voting in Florida in the late 196Os. I found that next to the Census information, how a neighborhood votes tells you in fascinating detail more about you and your neighbors than you can ever imagine.

VPAP has done an extraordinary service in showing us the amazing trends taking place today in Virginia by this new mapping tool.

These maps help explain how President Obama was elected in what was considered a conservative state just as they may explain who will control Congress in November. And they do it better than a clueless expert explaining a boring exit poll.

We are very lucky in VA to have VPAP

Posted by: electionwatcher | June 2, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

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