Political consultant and former resident, Peter Bratt understood the importance of data — his models became part of the Democratic redistricting efforts in 2011. It now appears that Grand Rapids and its Clerk, Lauri Parks could have used his help.
The task was fairly simple: following instructions from the Secretary of State, Grand Rapids was to change the numbering of its precincts from ward specific to a sequential pattern (so no more of having three precinct 24s, say).
This would be a minor thing, or should be. The result has been problematic, however, and may require an additional fix.
In her revamp, Parks redrew boundaries of several precincts. Most entailed better aligning Ward 1, Precinct 13 (the near west side neighborhood along the river from Bridge to Leonard), a more significant change took place in the far northwest where three precincts (23, 24 and 31) were combined into two, 23 and 21, basically by dividing up 24. Now this may seem arcane, but for those who track voter behavior, the merge and split means that data will now have to be consolidated into one chunk, a combined 23 and 21. This is a small loss of granular data.
The larger problem, however comes with the naming of the precincts themselves. All online archive records at Election Magic or at the Secretary of State, present the data in a fixed order (ward 1 beginning with precinct 1, ward 2, etc), this generally has allowed for tracking from year to year. The new numbering system sought to give new names that resemble the old ones (e.g. in Ward 3, pct 5 becomes 55, pct 18, 68; pct 21, 71). The difficulty is that such a numbering substantially breaks down the earlier order of precincts, that order used all other analyses.
Oh, what is a poor boy to do?
For starters, get a key. The excel sheet gives the new number codes for the old precinct numbers. by using them next to the old precinct lists, one can sort them so archive data sets match current order or precincts. Yes, that’s confusing. It would be so much easier for data analysis had Ms Parks simply kept the order, and changed the number.
Practically, what this all means is that the amateur and limited fund campaigns will need to take extra time in building their data sets. And one thing we know for sure: Peter Bratt would not approve that.