West Virginia Elections

Notes and data for WVU Fall 2014 class

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WV Election Reporting

Notes and data for WVU Fall 2014 class

Demographic Information

These county-level details come from CensusReporter, a site that displays information from the Census Bureau. The county-level figures are from the 2012 American Community Survey; students can also search for place (city and town) names to get detailed information on specific places.

Election Results

Election results are from the West Virginia Secretary of State's office and consist of candidate-level totals. For elections before 2012, county-level totals are available. Beginning in 2012, precinct-level totals are available, including the 2014 primary election. The county totals files listed below are for all counties in West Virginia.

When looking at election results, keep these things in mind: presidential elections (2012 & 2008) are different from non-presidential (2010, 2011 & 2014) in terms of turnout and votes cast. But even so, there should be some consistency in terms of the general pattern of votes. Where precinct-level results are available, you should be able to identify where most of the votes in a county come from, and where voters are sparse. You should be able to identify heavily Democratic precincts and those that are more competitive in terms of votes. Looking at primaries, you should be able to see where each party has its base(s).

For county-level results, you should still see some of those things, but not in a detailed way. For example, if a county is broadly Democratic in voting in 2012 and 2014, it probably should be in 2008 and 2010 as well. Where it isn't - that could be worthy of mention or examination. Compare candidates up and down the ballot - are some candidates stronger than others of the same party in a county?

Voter Registration Data, July 2014

Also provided by the SOS office, there are county-specific files listing all registered voters (active and inactive). The data includes party affiliation, registration date and which political districts the voter lives in. Previous county totals by party are also available here.

Collecting Voter Registration Updates

In West Virginia (and most states), county clerks maintain the voter registration lists for their county. The voter registration deadline for the general election is October 14, so you should plan on visiting the county clerk's office several times between now and October 15 to obtain updated voter registration statistics. You don't have to go every week, but at least twice would be good. During your visits, you should also ask about the early voting and absentee ballot processes for your county, because after October 14 you should be able to see statistics from each county on early voting and absentee ballots returned (although neither will be counted until Election Day). You can compare such updates to previous early voting and absentee totals for that county (or precinct if available).

To convert electronic PDFs to text for importing into Excel, I recommend Tabula.

Election Materials

As part of your reporting, you'll be asking West Virginia residents to save the election materials they receive and to send them to us. In practice this mostly means direct mail pieces, but we'll take recorded robocalls, newspaper ads, anything, really. Each team will have a list of voters to contact (either in person or by phone, with email as a backup) and to establish a pattern of either the voter submitting material to us or reporters picking it up on visits.

I'll be emailing each county-focused team with a list of voters - please try to get materials from at least one in each of the six categories listed in the file. The more, the merrier, of course. For the statewide team, I'd like each of you to use social media and any friends/family contacts in West Virginia to garner election materials from whatever corner of the state you can. If anyone needs more names, let me know, I've got plenty.

The materials can be collected in several ways: people can take pictures of it (all sides) and email them, they can use envelopes we provide to collect them and then either mail them, or have reporters pick them up on visits. If we can get audio, ask voters to save voicemail messages and you should be able to record them using your phone.

In addition to people you specifically ask to provide materials, we'll put out a general call for materials to be sent via email. Ideally, we'd get a person's name and address with anything sent to us, but in some cases just location (city/county) would be good. We'll take anything people want to send us, but the more information about a particular campaign message, the better. The most useful information - what we should aim for - ties election materials to a voter in a way that we can identify him or her.

We'll be using a Google Form to enter information about the materials we collect (in addition to keeping copies of them). I'll send an email with a link to the form.

Broadcast Advertisements

Television and radio stations are required by law to maintain a public inspection file, that includes, among other things, a "political file" that has "a complete record of a request to purchase broadcast time that: (A) is made by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate for public office; or (B) communicates a message relating to any political matter of national importance." These files are kept at the main studio for each station, and can be in many forms - printed paper, spreadsheets, etc.

Each group should locate the broadcast stations in your county, bearing in mind that some will overlap with other counties as well. Many stations, including those in Pittsburgh, submit their political files to the FCC, which posts them, so you might not need to visit the offices as often, but close to the election it will be faster to get them in person.

Here is a file of West Virginia media buys as of Sept. 25.

Radio stations also have political files, but they are only available at the station, so teams will need to locate and visit radio stations in your counties, with the exception of public radio stations. Don't just stick with the largest stations, but see if you can visit small ones, too.

Storing the Data

For both election materials and broadcast ads, I'll be setting up an online form that you can enter information about each piece of mail or ad buy. This likely will be via a Google Form.

Following the Money