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Real-time election nights in Toulouse

Posted on 24 July 2014 by Pierre Picard

In order to gather and publish the results of polls as they happen, the city of Toulouse asked Bull design and develop a Business Intelligence (BI) solution adapted to the challenges of a modern election.

Elections are a key milestone in the life of a community, as well as events where information has to be processed with maximum accuracy and speed.

The fourth largest city in France, with a population of almost 450,000, Toulouse is also the largest conurbation that is not divided into electoral districts, where parallel counting speeds up the publication of results. This means it is among the last areas in the country to publish the outcome of the polls on voting night. But the demands of political life and the media mean there is a great deal of pressure to produce electoral data earlier and earlier.
With the support of Bull – its Business Intelligence partner – the Information Systems Research and Applications Department at the Toulouse city authority and urban community of Greater Toulouse (Toulouse Métropole) has developed a tool for processing and consolidating votes cast in elections. Its first outing was at the recent municipal poll. The solution enables election count results from the city’s 249 polling stations to be uploaded and disseminated in real-time, instantly providing trends for the election results.

The unique features of BI for local authorities
Shared jointly between the Toulouse city council and the urban community, the Information Systems Research and Applications Department is responsible for carrying out computerization projects and providing application support. In particular, its remite includes BI, covering three key elements: publishing applications, reporting and project management. “Local authorities have dozens of different functional departments, each with very different needs. Managing the allocation of day nursery places has nothing in common with the vehicle fleet maintenance or regulatory monitoring of dangerous dogs. So, unlike many businesses, we don’t have a single huge datawarehouse at the heart of the business, but a multitude of data sources, which we consolidate to publish statements, reports and dashboards needed to support the services in our communities,” explains Michel Rapatel, head of the Information Systems Research and Applications Department for the Toulouse authorities.

In this type of approach, where BI also acts as an application, the new electoral tool was developed to replace an ageing system. It retrieves data from various sources (election results at they are in progress, data on turnout and votes cast, historical data on past elections…), gathers it together into an info-center, and then feeds it into the official procedure including controlled publication of the results. Established by the Ministry of the Interior, the regulatory procedure requires the uploading of turnout data throughout the day, the automated transmission of results to the prefecture and the publication of certified reports for countersignature.

Dashboards for monitoring results in real time
Long before the final numbers are established, the tool also responds to the demand – both from the city authorities and the public – for information to be published. For every hundred ballot papers counted, the offices communicate the incomplete results, which are aggregated into the info-center and published in an understandable form via the dashboards.
These real-time dashboards detail the trends, based on the weighted interim results that show the number of polling stations and how representative they are of the whole during the count. The system also allows users to choose how the electoral areas grouped and analyze data by comparing it with data from previous elections. The dashboards give the final results at the end of the election. To avoid misinterpretation, the formatting of these results is adapted to the target audience: the general public, press and (the most comprehensive version) municipal decision makers. When cross-referenced with the city’s Geographic Information System (GIS), the data can also be viewed on a map. Finally, data flows are used to transmit the final results to the media as they come in (for example on the Website, on the La Dépêche du Midi portal…).

Mistakes are not allowed!
Developed with the help of Bull, there has to be no room for error with this application – which is only used occasionally – despite the difficulty of full-scale testing. For the 2014 round of municipal, European and partial legislative elections it not only rose to this challenge, but even with the results from only 73 electoral wards in, it was already showing results that proved to be 0.5% acurate. Nevertheless, the system is very sensitive to election conditions (turnout, electoral boundaries, the number of candidates).

We are neither pollsters nor statisticians, but arithmetic corrections should allow us to refine the way trends are calculated,” says Michel Rapatel, who appreciates Bull’s collaboration: “The Bull team has used its combination of technical skills, rigour and responsiveness to first assimilate the specific characteristics of the electoral process, and then to strengthen system performance between the two rounds of the election. We now have a real-time business intelligence solution that meets today’s needs for information.”

Credit photo : Fotolia

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