Welcome to the Voter Turnout Archive (“VTA”), a project of the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College.
Voter turnout statistics provide valuable information that can be used to examine voter conduct, indicate the quality of elections and campaigns, and gauge the general health of the electorate. Despite the importance of these numbers, no public or private agency holds the role of collecting and storing these numbers for future analyses. The purpose of the VTA is to perform this function. Turnout statistics are a quick, accessible means of analyzing variations in political participation. The Voter Turnout Archive allows for easier access to turnout data and greater transparency of voting records.
VTA data files on this site provide voter turnout statistics at the municipality or township level for Western Pennsylvania counties. Our project is ongoing and will be updated as our data collection progresses.
Why Voter Turnout Statistics?
One of the most famous sayings in politics is that “all politics is local.” Information about one’s community can influence voters. Much of what happens in politics is due to how voters are presented with information about their own communities. Voter turnout statistics can help illustrate the subtle differences and political nuances existing in various municipalities.
Why Voter Turnout Statistics at a Fine Level?
The Census Bureau has voter turnout numbers for some counties, excluding much information. Even if counted, small counties can contain over fifty precincts, and each precinct may contain a different political culture, and thus, different voter turnout rates. By breaking down turnout statistics into smaller units of analyses, we are able to get a finer picture of voter behavior and the operation of local politics.
How we Collected This Data
Voter turnout data are difficult to acquire – often researchers must gather data county by county, or wait a few years after an election for turnout data from the Census Bureau. Even then, Census data is only an estimate. The Voter Turnout Archive provides easy access to actual, non-estimated turnout data and greater transparency of voting records.
We requested turnout statistics from numerous Pennsylvania Counties. Some counties, however, did not keep records of how many ballots were cast in each precinct. Rather, they had turnout numbers for each precinct broken down by office. In order to find the total turnout for each precinct, therefore, we combined the turnout numbers for each office, in each precinct. We used the office that contained the highest turnout because that number would be roughly equal to the total turnout as the most voters cast a ballot in that election.
Calculations and our Data Assumptions
To calculate voter turnout, we use the “Census Citizen Method,” as described by Lopez et al. We took the number of people voting in any given election divided by the municipality / township’s population of citizens aged 18 and over.
Population values at the municipality and township level for citizens aged 18 and over are available only for the decennial census years. For the years in between census collections, we estimated our population numbers evenly over the ten-year period, based on the population change from census to census.
(See Mark Hugo Lopez, Emily Kirby, Jared Sagoff, and Chris Herbst, “The Youth Vote 2004; With a Historical Look at Voting Patterns, 1972-2004.” Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) Working Paper 35, July 2005. http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/WorkingPapers/WP35CIRCLE.pdf)
How to use this Data
Turnout statistics are in separate Microsoft Excel workbook files by County. For example, the workbook file named “butler.xls” contains three spreadsheets for Butler County, PA. The first spreadsheet, named “voter” contains raw numbers of how many people voted in a given election. The second spreadsheet, “pop” contains population numbers and estimates for all municipalities / townships in Butler County. The final spreadsheet, named “voter turnout %” contains voter turnout calculations, given as percentages, for each election for each municipality or township.
The Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College promotes interest and involvement in democratic life. The Voter Turnout Archive is a pilot project to calculate voter turnout statistics at the municipality or township level for all Pennsylvania counties. We are funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
The records were able to be collected because of the generosity and cooperation of the county election boards.
We gratefully acknowledge assistance on this project from the following County Boards of Elections: Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Erie, Forest, Mercer, Lawrence, Somerset, Venango, and Washington. We thank Larry Sink of the U.S. Census Bureau and Daniel M. Shea, CPP Director, for helpful advice.
Melissa Kovacs, Ph.D., is the Voter Turnout Archive Project Director. Please contact her with questions or comments pertaining to the Voter Turnout Archive project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VTA workers include: Shannon Scotece, Ashlie Louie, Jaclyn Stallard, Mike Folk, Jennifer Berosh, Marco Attisano, Danielle Gray, Dan Conant, Ted Zimmer, and Dan Carik.