I'm tired of backtracking the hinterlands
July 13, 2008 10:48 AM   Subscribe

How can I automatically arrange my walk-lists for political canvassing?

I'm going to be cutting up a lot of turf for canvassers over the next couple of months and the solutions I have available are pretty insufficient. For instance, when I print out a walk-list, all the streets are arranged in alphabetical order rather than geographic location.

Is there anyway to dump map points into a program/web service so that they can be automatically arranged in a logical walking order?
posted by abkadefgee to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're working for a democratic candidate, you should be using some interface to the Voter Activation Network. Build The Hope, amongst others, lets you order by street name and print out a google map of houses along with these lists. You can also set up page breaks between different streets. Then it's up to the canvasser to shuffle their various street lists around and plan how to go through them. It's not ideal, but you get good at it pretty quickly.
posted by phrontist at 11:11 AM on July 13, 2008

VoteBuilder is the other interface that's used often. Someone from your campaign should be able to get you access. I don't know what other political groups use for their voter files.
posted by phrontist at 11:13 AM on July 13, 2008

Also, canvassing often happens in groups, so it's good to keep everything is nice modular chunks (street by street, in house number order, only streets within walking distance grouped in to a turf).
posted by phrontist at 11:16 AM on July 13, 2008

Yeah, the key question is where your walk lists come from in the first place. If you are working for a Democratic candidate, I strongly 2nd phrontist: get on the VAN.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:41 AM on July 13, 2008

This is an example of the Traveling Salesperson Problem, I believe someone asked about it here awhile back. Optimap is a Google Maps Mashup that attempts to solve it by calculating the fastest round trip from a list of up to 24 addresses. It may not work well for your requirements (walking vs. driving, only 24 addresses, etc), but check it out if you do not have access to a campaign or party created tool.
posted by ChrisHartley at 2:42 PM on July 13, 2008

What program are you using? I'm assuming it's not the VAN, b/c then you would know about the sexy new turf-cutting feature (which I LOVE). If you're using VoterBase, I'm sorry, that sucks, but I've worked with that, too and have some tips.

Or did you just get an excel file of the voter file from the county? In that case, you can dump it into Streets and Trips, to at least see where all the addresses are and cut turf that way, but that's SO 2004.

Anyway, as you can see I am a total turf and voter file geek. Feel free to MeMail me, or just respond here and we'll walk you through your options.
posted by lunasol at 3:11 PM on July 13, 2008

Oh, BTW, the VAN and VoteBuilder are the same thing. The VAN is simply the company that builds voter file programs for many progressive groups, including the DNC, which calls theirs VoteBuilder.
posted by lunasol at 3:16 PM on July 13, 2008

I AM using the VAN, but we don't have "Turf Cutter" here. We're dumping out of the VAN, into Mappoint to cut an area, and back into the VAN to print lists. This puts things into alphabetical order rather than placing by location.

The problem is just reorganizing the turf into a logical walking order. We can see in Mappoint that the area is reasonable and are sticking to a walkable number of doors, but the optimal route isn't immediately apparent.

I was wondering whether there might be some mashup with Google Maps or something else that would help arrange the houses by latitude and longitude or something of that sort rather than numeric/alphabetical order.
posted by abkadefgee at 9:16 PM on July 13, 2008

By the way, it's not just the office I'm working with who doesn't have Turf Cutter. It's everyone who uses the VAN in my state.
posted by abkadefgee at 10:01 PM on July 13, 2008

I just sent you a MeMail with this text, but thought I'd put it here for posterity:

If you are able to plot houses in the software you are using, that is the best option I know of. Pre-turf-cutter, we would just dump precinct lists into Streets and Trips, plot the houses, and then pull streets by hand from the printed-out lists. This is annoying and time-consuming at first, but does get faster. You may want to make this an intern/volunteer task (this is the kind of thing enthusiastic high school students LOVE to do because it makes them feel important). Or just cut all your turf for the week in one go, while you listen to some loud music.

Cut your lists in the smallest geographic chunk possible (precincts, wards) to make it easier.

And hey, look at it this way: it's a hell of a lot easier than the pre-VAN way, which involved getting a paper list from the county and cross-referencing it with an enormous street map from the city, all of which had to be photocopied, probably on a 10-year-old copier donated by a supporter. And then we had to walk five miles to turf, uphill, in the snow.
posted by lunasol at 12:37 PM on July 22, 2008

makes them feel important=sounds more snarky than I meant. Anyway, it's always good to give a more "strategic" role like this to an enthusiastic volunteer. Gives them some good skills, let's you cross a task off your to-do lists and gives them a break from the doors/phones.
posted by lunasol at 12:39 PM on July 22, 2008

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