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MapLab: A Mapmaker’s Super Bowl

CityLab MapLab

As the 2020 election stretches into its fourth day, we may not be certain of the next U.S. president. But one name that's featured heavily in the news since Tuesday should win something: Steve Kornacki, the MSNBC analyst whose Energizer Bunny-like stamina at his big interactive election results map became a hashtag on social media.  

Kornacki's star is particularly bright among people who care about communicating data. While guiding viewers through the results from critical counties in critical states, he has clearly and calmly pointed to a bar on his map that shows the rate of votes accounted for, and what they mean.

Where electoral votes for candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump stood as of Thursday afternoon. 

Bloomberg News

That's important. In a normal election, "the goal is to tell you who won. It's not about what we don't know," E.J. Fox, a freelance data journalist who has built election maps for CBS and NBC, told me in October. But that's different this year. When President Trump erroneously declared victory in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, results reflected a relatively small share of votes from some key urban counties with high mail-in voting rates in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada — which, as the counts have continued, have strongly favored Biden. 

That Kornacki and many other news channels and online outlets (including Bloomberg News, whose graphics are shown here) have included indicators of outstanding votes in their election graphics this week helps inform viewers of the truth.

An indicator of votes counted as of Thursday evening. 

Bloomberg News

Fox also built his own cartogram to show the percentage of votes tallied in every county, in every state. A simulation is shown below.

Uncertainty is a certainty: Fox's cartogram simulates the percentage of votes accounted for in every county, in every state. 

Courtesy of E.J. Fox

Election maps have been called the "Super Bowl" for graphics departments competing for clicks and eyeballs on the day (or days) of the big decision. For CityLab, my colleague Marie Patino and I spoke to Fox and many other mapmakers and map experts about how election maps go right - and wrong. Read the story, and tell me: How do you think graphics teams performed this week? Which outlet or map informed you best, and which ones drove you nuts? (Other than, you know, all them.) Write me here

Map links

  • If you'd rather think about fake election maps than real ones, read Emily VanDerWerff on The West Wing. (Vox)
  • Or perhaps this roundup of election map memes. (Vanity Fair)
  • The future of gerrymandering after 2020 (Guardian)
  • Maps reveal the disparity in polling locations in major U.S. cities (S.F. Gate)

Hope you're all surviving this week. Subscribe to MapLab here. 

Laura Bliss, writing from battleground Nevada


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