Election Graphics
November 1, 2004

Client: The Associated Press
Development Time: 2 1/2 Months

For the November 2004 US general election, The Associated Press (AP) needed to provide thousands of their member newspapers with graphics coverage of national and state results for the presidential, congressional, and senatorial races for print media.

AP Graphics coverage of the election needed to begin when the first polls closed on election day, continue as results came in, and finally end when all races had been called. Coverage would include maps and data graphics showing which regions voted for which parties or candidates; 5 large national graphics and 49 state graphics were planned in color and B&W versions, and the largest of the graphics would need to display thousands of datapoints. As the election quickly unfolded throughout the night, these graphics needed to be generated many times and published with a minimum of prep work by AP staff.

The main parts of the project consisted of the following tasks:

  • Creation of software to generate election data graphics using AP data sources
  • Development of a methodology for creating graphics templates
  • Coordination of the software’s operation on election night

In the months leading up to election night, John Balestrieri:

  • Helped AP Graphics staff journalists and designers determine the content and layout of graphics
  • Provided a specification for graphics templates which would allow AP Graphics staff to produce graphics with the workflow and tools they were accustomed to, while being embedded with placeholder information to be used by John’s software
  • Researched and recommended the purchase of third-party software tools to help AP Graphics produce the required maps and graphics templates
  • Communicated with developers of major third-party software to provide custom versions or fixes of their software as needed
  • Reverse engineered file formats to perform data conversion
  • Performed tests to validate the completeness and accuracy of the graphics templates
  • Gathered and normalized (formatted, homogenized) current and past government data and statistics, including thousands of county level results for the 2000 presidential general election, as would needed by John’s software
  • Worked with AP researchers to ensure the accuracy the above information
  • Worked with AP staff to do on-the-spot spreadsheet or database analysis of the election results for data graphics covering specific aspect of the election
  • Coordinated tests of John’ software and worked with the AP’s technical services staff to find & fix bugs in the AP’s data feeds

Simultaneously, John developed the custom software that would do the following on election night:

  • Download database-ready feeds of the AP published election results via FTP
  • Ingest the results into a SQL database based on AP specifications
  • Query the database for results
  • Aggregate vote counts for certain regions where totals were not explicitly provided
  • Generate high-level data such as margin of victory percentages
  • Print formated text reports containing these high-level results for use by AP fact-checkers to cross reference results with an independent AP data feed
  • Save results to be used in the data graphics in an intermediary XML file-format, for deferred graphics creation
  • Designed a user-friendly interface to the application that would allow any staff member to operate the software with a minimum of orientation
  • Script third-party applications to generate & output the final graphics

For the night of the election, John provided:

  • Training of AP staff in the operation of the software
  • Oversight & coordination of the software’s operation and workflow

The project was a success, the AP published hundreds of graphics throughout the night of the election. Critical to success of this project was the need always keep options open and know how to achieve goals in more than one way when obstacles were encountered.

Download & Map Results windows

Journalism & layout design by Dan Delorenzo, The Associated Press

Journalism & layout design by Dan Delorenzo, The Associated Press