[EM] Ballot Data Format

Neal McBurnett neal at bcn.boulder.co.us
Sun Jun 6 13:00:39 PDT 2021

I too am an aficionado of election data formats, and have been active e.g. on the working groups run by NIST for the Election Assistance Commission, and previous related efforts by OASIS and IEEE years before that.

I appreciate that the goal here is a format that is
  * human-readable and easy to enter (e.g. for mailing list discussions), and
  * easily parsed (e.g. for software imulations).

The other working groups have been focused on standards for voting system use, and only recently have even handled ranked and rated methods.  E.g. the comprehensive, but verbose and not-very-human-readable CVR standard documented at:

 Cast Vote Records Common Data Format Specification Version 1.0 | NIST

Thankfully we did at least get both ratings and rankings supported there.

At the moment, hopefully early enough in this discussion, I want to push back on the use of the term "ballot image" to mean something other than a graphical representation. The latter is how it is defined in the latest Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0.

> ballot image: Archival digital image (e.g. JPEG, PDF, etc.) captured from one or more sides of a paper ballot cast by an individual voter.

I know all too well that there was a time (before scanners produced images) that some folks and even standards decided to use the term "ballot image" to mean what we now usually call a "cast vote record". But calling that an "image" is counterintuitivefor the general public, and that usaage has been on the way out for a long time. At the same time, all the recent talk of "ballot images" is about making the graphical representations that all modern voting systems use internally available for quality control and other purposes.

So I'm delighted to see a more convenient format for rated methods, but I'd ask that you not put the word "image" in the name.


Neal McBurnett                 http://neal.mcburnett.org/

On Fri, May 28, 2021 at 02:31:25AM -0700, Rob Lanphier wrote:
> The name (and file extension) for the format that I'm gravitating
> toward is ABIF (".abif"), which stands for "aggregated ballot image
> format".  I'm using the term "ballot image" because that seems to be
> the term of art for publishing real-world electoral results.  Once
> upon a time, "ballot image" meant "a picture of the ballot", but now
> just means a crude ASCII representation in a line of text.
> I did some processing of the ballot images from San Francisco's 2018
> mayoral election, which involved some coding and some manual shell
> processing with grep and friends.  My work was ugly the way that all
> manual futzing in bash is ugly, but I got a few regexps and some test
> data (and some experience) that I'm applying here.  As I was
> processing the results, I had wished the results were aggregated in an
> easier to process manner.  I would love to finish my processing work
> and publish it in a sane format that other programmers can use, which
> I'm hoping ABIF can become.

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