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A Storehouse for State Roll Call Votes?

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of infrastructure when it comes to collecting, storing, and analyzing state legislative roll call votes. Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal have an extremely comprehensive dataset of roll call votes for the United States Congress. The folks at UC Berkley have a large collection of roll call votes for various legislative bodies around the world at VoteWorld. Nevertheless, there’s nothing that I’ve found that would indicate much of a comprehensive place for state legislative roll call data. What little I’ve found is in the form of:

  • Gerald Wright’s roll calls across all 50 states, but only from 1999-2000.
  • Seth Masket’s impressive roll calls for California ranging from 1901-2003.
  • Boris Shor has data from all the state legislatures, but I’m uncertain how far back it goes, and as of yet it’s unreleased. (I think they’re still waiting for a few journals to publish some of their works in progress).
  • I’ve heard a rumor that Mark Jones at Rice has data on the Texas House stretching back to 1973, but my repeated attempts at contacting him have utterly failed.
  • It looks like Robert Hogan at LSU has state house roll call data for 28 states from 1995-2000, but he hasn’t released the data either it seems.
  • ProjectVote Smart indeed has roll call votes for a great number of state legislators, but they only have the resources to keep track of votes on key bills, not the complete record.
  • CRAN, the Comprehensive R Archive Network, houses a variety of roll call datasets for a few key legislative sessions, but it’s very much an ad hoc experience.

So my question for all involved is this: “What the hell?” As political scientists, we love data and lots of it. I know there’s lots and lots of good data on state legislative roll call voting sitting out there somewhere. But it sure as hell isn’t easy to locate and analyze it.

Now while I’m yelling about researchers hoarding state data, I need to appropriately yell at myself too. I’ve got a collection of all the roll call votes (or as we call them here, “record votes”) for the Texas House from 1995-2009 and so far I haven’t really shared them with enough folks, hence this post. I need to find a place to put these votes so that everyone who wants to analyze them can get to them. Moreover, I don’t really want to just drop a gigantic text file as a web link on some random page. I would much rather see a more comprehensive mechanism by which any roll call researcher could contribute to and/or use data from a large pool.

I imagine such a mechanism as a web-driven database, where one can browse the data from each of the states and import/transcode/export roll call votes in a variety of formats, including everything from the compact VoteView style to a comprehensive SQL database dump. Ideally, if you’re using R you could automatically draw the appropriate dataset over, without any manual chicanery. So far I haven’t even seen such a tool for any legislative body’s votes, much less that for state legislatures.

Any comments from those in the field? Is there any interest in such a contraption? I mean, I could implement a fancy prettified roll call storehouse, but if I’m the only one using it then it doesn’t do anybody a damned bit of good.

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