The Election Commission has been hard to get data from, so others are setting their data free.
The most important story of this election, until the results are out, has been the historic voter turnout. Unfortunately, it has also been the hardest story to tell.
The Election Commission of India, on its website, has no numbers for turnouts, a day after the last polls were cast and over a month after the first votes were cast. This is because, an ECI representative told me, postal ballots had not yet been counted. In my opinion, there is no justification for the ECI not putting out provisional data and updating with postal ballots later. The ECI’s own director-general held a press conference, as we know from this AFP report, (which by the way is the only report that names the source) but there is no sign of the numbers he gave out on the ECI’s website.
So what reporters have had to do, is collate the number from individual state Chief Electoral Officers. Not all states have good or working websites, not all media organisations have a reporter in every state, and the process has, in all, been incredibly painful.
One bright spark in all this gloom has been India’s growing Open Data community. Srinivas Ramani, Senior Assistant Editor at the Economic and Political Weekly, put out this fantastic compilation of constituency-wise turnout figures, also neatly visualised as an India map, on Twitter yesterday (he is @vrsrini). Srinivas says that many state CEOs were helpful, but he also benefitted from the generosity of journalists like Anil Padmanabhan, Deputy Managing Editor at Mint (@capitalcalculus) and the open data community on a Google Group called Datameet which helped him create shape files to fit the numbers to the map. Lastly, Srinivas, like other members of the community put the results of their hard work into the public domain for others to play with, without getting proprietary and possessive about it, something that I as a journalist have still to fully learn.
Datameet is a particularly great meeting place for India’s open data community, whose rallying cry this week will surely be Set The Election Commission Free. If the government won’t, it’s good to see others are making a key and passing it around.