May has been an exciting month for us here at Bannister Lake. Our election software, Elector, was used by Global TV for two incredibly dramatic and historic elections. On May 9th, we had the British Columbia General Election which produced a thrill-a-minute result where 2 major parties and a minor party were able to produce an unlikely minority government. Throughout the evening, we kept flipping between the Liberals and NDP gaining a majority and a minority lead in both directions. That with the Greens only contesting in 3 ridings. How was that possible? When I finally packed it in around 2am ET, there was a tie between the Liberals and NDP. By morning while Elector kept chugging along, the Liberals took it by a minority.
Next up, the May 30th Nova Scotia General Election with the polls looking like the Conservatives might spoil the Liberal’s hopes for another majority win. Early results had the Conservatives leading the way but after an hour of results, the Liberals took an edge. From there on, we were in another flipping mood where we were seeing Liberal minority move to Liberal majority and back. When I packed it in around midnight ET, it was a Liberal minority lead. I woke up in the morning while Elector was cranking away to a narrow Liberal majority win.
Elector started out with an emphasis on generating all the graphics for a standard election broadcast. But over time, it has become an editorial tool helping talent make sense of the election, mathematicians make calls, producers show the ridings graphics that matter at any particular time, augmented reality show information and graphics, news department show breaking news and websites provide the most up-to-date data.
Our web interface to Elector, Flow, is what pulls it all together. At any particular time, we may have large numbers of users using the data in different ways. And with Flow’s user classes, each type of user sees things tuned to their needs and editing privileges. Flow lets us compile the details about ridings, candidates and parties. It also has support for historical elections giving the users a way to see past election data to provide a historical perspective.
Elector has a collection of tools that work together to generate valuable insights into the real-time election results. It starts with as much of the results from the previous election as is available. From there we add information about current candidates indicating which ones are candidates of interest for reasons such as being a star candidate, a subject of a media scandal or an independent with a chance, etc. Predictions for the results in each riding are also added on a party basis. As the results start to come in, Elector goes to work to help mine the entire collection of past, present and predictions for interesting results. While users are reviewing the individual riding results in the Results Summary page the Interesting Agent is busy identifying interesting events such as an incumbent losing, close races and a party taking the lead in a riding they were not expected to win. As these events are identified they are presented to users of Elector via quick popups that identify the interesting events for the riding. As the results accumulate, Elector highlights each riding which may be ready to declare a candidate elected. An analyst can quickly popup the detailed riding results allowing them to make the final call and elect the candidate right there on the summary results page.
I’m always thrilled when I see our users utilizing our software. For example, David Akin, Global TV’s Chief Political Correspondent posted screenshots of Flow on twitter throughout the evening. He was using the screenshots to describe some of the riding results.
Elections are a hectic and scary event for all news departments. It often requires a small army to pull it off. Elector, which got its start from a New Brunswick election in 2006, has come a long way. Not only does it include all the editorial, watchlists and number crunching tools in Flow but it has a rehearsal tool providing a way for teams to test different scenarios pre-election, a RESTful api making the data available to other sources like websites and virtual devices and data parsers which are tuned for the quickest and most accurate results.
Special thanks to Gerry Belec and Deb Zinck at Global TV for all the great suggestions, feedback and patience which has made Elector a success.