Voinovich School faculty, staff, and students play key roles in collecting data from the US Census Bureau to organize it into a unified redistribution database


Professors, professionals, and students at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service have had a busy few years collecting data from county election councils and the US Census Bureau to organize themselves into a base. unified redistribution data that will allow lawmakers to have a more efficient means of using the data to create new maps for state and federal legislative districts.

Several years ago, the Ohio Legislative Services Board awarded Voinovich School the Redistribution Database contract, allowing OHIO to single-handedly administer the project after working with Cleveland State. University on similar contracts over previous decades and redistribution cycles.

“It is an honor for the Voinovich School to do this work on behalf of the State of Ohio,” Jason Jolley, professor of rural economic development, director of the Masters of Public Administration program and non-partisan liaison for Ohio with the US Census Bureau, mentioned. “We understand the importance of collecting and publishing this data and providing non-partisan information that helps state lawmakers make decisions that impact Ohio, regardless of their political affiliation.”

Michael Finney, Visiting Professor and Executive in Residence at Voinovich School, coordinated the team of professionals and students who collected electoral district maps from 88 electoral councils and examined maps from the US Census Bureau to create the basis for statewide unified redistribution data. School professionals working on the project over the past five years have included Elkan Kim, Kyong Lim, Jessica Schaudt, Matt Trainer, Robert Wiley, Steven Porter, Robert Barber-Delach and over 20 students, all of whom have played a key role in the management and execution of the complex five-year project.

The Voinovich School team began work on the first phase of the project, the Census Bureau’s Block Boundary Suggestion Program, in 2016. During this phase, staff and students collected data from electoral councils. Ohio and digitized constituencies into a Geographic Information System (GIS). . Next, the team compared the census block boundaries provided by the US Census Bureau with the electoral district maps and provided feedback to the Census Bureau on the proposed block boundaries that would be used by the Census Bureau to compile the census. 2020. The team also suggested to the Census Bureau block boundaries that would coincide with the enclosure boundaries.

The next phase, programming the redistribution data, involved updating the constituency boundaries based on changes to the boundaries specified by the electoral councils. The team ensured that the enclosure boundaries coincided with the city, village and township boundaries. Changes to the constituency boundaries have been provided to the US Census Bureau each year until March 2020.

“Our goal was to make sure there were no blocks divided by constituency boundaries in the final data release,” Finney said. “We wanted to make sure that the census data and the constituency information were linked together so that we could create the unified statewide redistribution database, allowing cartographers to draw the new legislative districts and of the State Congress as part of the redistribution process to use the same set of maps and census data to do their job.

Communities and counties in the state were asked to report changes to municipal boundaries to the US Census Bureau to ensure there were specific boundaries for each county in the state. The team would request updates to the constituency maps and scan them into the mapping software. Other team members created a website where the team entered map data and worked with electoral councils to ensure that the maps that were being scanned accurately represented the constituency boundaries.

The US Census Bureau originally planned to release the 2020 demographics used to build legislative maps by April 2021, but was delayed by COVID-19 and did not release information until August 12. This posed a problem for the Ohio Redistricting Commission, whose deadline for drawing and submitting the district draft to the State House and Senate for consideration by the Commission was September 1. Due to the release of the population data later than expected, Finney and his team lobbied to quickly reestablish the unified redistribution database to give cartographers as much time as possible to draw the new plans. legislative district of the state.

Once the data was published, the team imported the 2020 census data from the Census Bureau website into its database software, extracting the data into tables for the different levels of geography and checking to ensure that population totals were what they expected. Then the team members linked the population data to the maps to make sure the tables were linked correctly and when they saw that it was, they integrated all the data into a single database. data as well as five years of statewide election results. Then they transferred this unified redistribution database to the Legislative Services Commission and in turn provided it to the Redistribution Commission. Surprisingly, the team was able to extract, verify and merge population and map data and transfer the finished unified redistribution database to the LSC in just under 24 hours.

“We are not drawing the new legislative or congressional maps. Our job was to create the unified redistribution database. On the one hand, it’s a straightforward process, and on the other hand, it’s very technical requiring a lot of detailed work to put the data together for the maps, ”Finney said. “We were constantly working with electoral councils to keep abreast of constituency changes and growth within their communities as these changes impacted the development of constituency maps.”

The Unified Redistribution Database is currently available on the Redistribution Commission website for anyone to download and is used by cartographers to develop new legislative and congressional cartographic plans.

“The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service truly lives up to its name for the work our faculty, staff and students do to positively impact our region as a whole and the State of Ohio through their academic excellence and their public service, ”Mark Weinberg, Dean of the Voinovich School, said. “Working with the US Census Bureau and electoral councils across our state to collect data for use by our legislators is just one way to meet the needs of the state and I am very proud of Michael and the amazing team that led this project. and for Professor Jolley’s work as a non-partisan state liaison to the Census Bureau. “

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