There are many, many tales that can be told about this subject. Here is one, from Megan Reif:
After calling and showing up in person at various city and county offices in Newark on multiple occasions, it took going through back-channels on the city council in 2006 (pre-Cory Booker administration) to get Newark’s archived precinct-level election results since 1954. Most were hand-written and the process of digitizing them is a nightmare. Trying to get results from Essex County as a whole was going to be even more challenging, and may require the local equivalent of a FOIA request. Things may have changed in Newark under the new administration, but funding for public information and archiving is limited. The NJ County Historical Society had ward-level results that had been published in the press, but that was it.
In many ways, developing democracies are leap-frogging us in terms of posting micro-level electronic results at the demand of international and domestic election monitoring organizations. The Pakistan Election Commission posted polling-station and booth-level results in response to public pressure after the 2008 election, Sri Lanka posts results at the polling division level, etc. It would be wonderful if academics and activists could mobilize for this kind of transparency in U.S. elections, particularly at the local level. Getting access in Newark was as hard as it was in Algeria, which makes me wonder if we shouldn’t consider availability of public election results (and census data) as a measure of democracy in aggregate measures.
Perhaps another measure for Heather Gerken’s Democracy Index?