CA Election 2020 Data Challenge

Data Science + Civic Engagement

Join the California Election 2020 Data Challenge, month-long data science + civic engagement competition designed to leverage public data to help us understand this year’s ballot initiatives!

Participants will build data literacy and visualization skills and contribute to informed civic dialogue by applying data science to questions about current CA ballot initiatives, which cover topics including health care, labor regulation, criminal justice, affirmative action, voting rights, affordable housing, consumer privacy, and tax reform. The outcomes of the Challenge are reproducible research projects culminating in a data visualization exploring an issue pertaining to a specific ballot initiative. It’s an opportunity to build your technical portfolio, explore publicly available data, expand your professional network, and win $$$ prizes!

This challenge is sponsored by UC Davis DataLab: Data Science and Informatics and the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN). Volunteer mentors and technical advisors are available for project feedback leading up to the challenge’s Virtual Showcase (Oct 5-6) and finale Webinar (Oct 21) prior to election day. 


Virtual kickoff and team match-making event

Join us on September 14, 2020 (3-5pm) to learn about the Challenge goals, timeline and resources, and connect with potential teammates. Advanced registration required.

Register Your Team

Have a team in mind and want to get started? Register by October 4 to be eligible to compete in the Virtual Showcase to win prizes and the chance to present at the Webinar. Don’t have a team but want to participate? Complete the registration form by September 15 and we will provide support with team matching.  Interested but not sure if you qualify to participate? Contact us.

Save the Date

Challenge finalists will present their projects at a public Webinar on October 21 (5-7pm). Keynote speakers include Mindy Romero (founder and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy), Jesse Salinas (Yolo County Clerk), and UC Davis Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship and University Librarian MacKenzie Smith

Connect With Us

Join the conversation with #CAElectionDataChallenge and follow us at @UCDavisDataSciQuestions? Contact

About the Challenge


California voters are presented with an average of 10 ballot initiatives each election year. These propositions are an important way for Californians to shape the future of our state.

But, many voters say there are too many of them and that they’re too complicated and confusing to understand. Voters also often worry about their ability to make an informed decision. The CA Election 2020 Data Challenge is designed to leverage public data to help us understand this year’s ballot initiatives.

Participants working in teams of two or more select one of the November 3rd, 2020 California Ballot Initiatives and, using at least one publicly available dataset, create a project culminating in a data visualization that explores or analyzes an aspect of the issue. Multiple teams may choose to work on the same ballot initiative but each team should have their own unique research question.

This 2020 Challenge builds upon DataLab’s “PropFest 2018” where successful projects included pursuits that:

  • Analyzed potential impacts of a proposed initiative on specific regions, sectors and/or demographics;
  • Tracked and summarized the historical development of a proposition; and
  • Fact-checked rhetoric or claims on both sides of the debate.

By October 4th all competing teams will upload a short (< 10 minute) video presentation of their project and data visualization (along with the link to the project’s public GitHub repository) to a Virtual Showcase which will run asynchronously on October 5th-6th. All teams are encouraged to submit their project (even if unfinished), review each other’s visualizations, and offer helpful, supportive, and constructive comments and questions. By observing the progress of the other teams, participants will not only grow their network and skill set, but also gain insights to help improve their final project. And remember, the most collegial individuals will also win a prize!

Judges will review all submissions and select up to three finalists to win up to $500 and present their project to the broader campus community at an online Webinar on Wednesday, October 21 (5-7pm).


Anyone from the UC Davis community and beyond is invited to participate on a team. Only current UC Davis students and postdoctoral scholars are eligible to win monetary prizes. Teams without a lead who is a current student or postdoc are welcome to participate but are not eligible for the prizes. Prizes will only be awarded to teams whose project focuses on an issue relating to a single initiative on the November 3rd, 2020 CA ballot.

Team prizes will be awarded for projects that are the:

  • Most accessible
  • Most innovative
  • Most data-licious

Individual prizes will also be awarded to the participants who demonstrate great collegiality, perseverance, and high engagement throughout the Challenge. This includes providing helpful and supportive feedback and resources to other participants and teams on the Slack workspace, during the Showcase, and during other Challenge-related activities.


The goal of this challenge is to support data literacy and explore data visualization applications to promote quantitatively informed civic dialogue. The emphasis of this challenge is on the process of working with data to uncover insights and providing an experience for applying data science to address real-world challenges. Your project and data visualization can encompass anything related to the ballot initiative, but this challenge will not support political agendas.

Full transparency of the data, code, outputs and interpretations is expected from all participants. In addition:

  • Projects must use at least one publicly available dataset.
  • All data visualizations must be reproducible. 

Teams must provide access to all materials used to produce their data visualization through a public GitHub repository. Best practices are expected for the organization of the repository, which should include all data, code, and outputs, along with a detailed readME explaining the files and links to the source datasets. 

For both the Showcase and Webinar presentations, teams should explain their data visualization, and highlight the process used for its development. At a minimum this presentation should include: 

    • Brief overview of the issue (your the research question) and its relevance for the given ballot initiative;
    • Where and how the data were obtained;
    • What tools, technologies, and techniques were used to analyze and visualize the data;
    • How they interpreted those findings;
    • What the data illuminates about a given issue pertaining to the ballot initiative;
    • Limitations of the source data or resulting visualization for understanding the issue

This Challenge provides an opportunity to learn and practice the process of developing a data science project. For the Showcase and Webinar, teams are encouraged to share any challenges they faced developing the project, how they overcame those challenges, and ask for suggestions and advice from others. 


Explore here for a run down of the Challenge events.


Date Event
Sept. 14, 3-5pm Challenge Virtual Kickoff. We will discuss goals of the challenge, introduce the timeline and resources, provide details about the showcase and symposium, and answer participant questions. We’ll then open up breakout rooms to facilitate team match-making for interested participants. Register now.
Sept. 15
by noon
Deadline for individuals to submit the registration form in order to receive help getting matched with another individual to form a team.
Sept. 16, 
Mentor Q&A Office Hour Session 1 (registered teams must RSVP by 10am to receive Zoom access link)
Sept. 18, 3-5pm Mentor Q&A Office Hour Session 2 (registered  teams must RSVP by 10am to receive Zoom access link)
Sept. 21, 
DataLab Technical Drop-in Office Hours
Sept. 28,  1:30-3pm DataLab Technical Drop-in Office Hours
Sept. 30,  3-5pm Open office hours with Challenge organizers for final check-in before the virtual showcase. Zoom link will be distributed to all registered teams and posted on the Challenge Slack workspace.
Oct. 4 Deadline for teams to register for the challenge.
Deadline to submit to the Showcase.
Oct. 5-6 Virtual Showcase for registered teams, mentors and judges!
Oct. 12 Judges announce finalists to present at the Webinar. 
Oct. 21, 
Public Webinar featuring keynote speakers and presentations by Challenge finalists.

Get Help

Domain Mentor Q&A Sessions

On September 16 and 18 from 3-5pm faculty, community, and subject matter experts have graciously volunteered their time to provide virtual consultations to support registered teams as they develop their projects. To participate, participants must register for the Q&A session no later than 10am the day of the session to receive the Zoom link.

We strongly encourage participants to attend these sessions. Mentors will offer registered teams general advice on approaching a project on the ballot initiative they have chosen. Mentors can offer participants insight into the ballot initiative content, history of the issue related to the ballot initiative in California or, more broadly, suggest sources of publicly available data and help define a research question.

Meet Our Mentors:

Nick Anderson, Ph.D. (September 18)
Mentor for Health Propositions (Prop 14 and 23)
Associate Professor and Division Chief, Health Informatics
Cardiff Professor of Informatics
University of California, Davis

Shikha Kothari, MBBS (September 16 and 18)
Mentor for Health Propositions (Prop 14 and 23)
Physician/ M.S. Health Informatics Candidate
UC Davis Health Informatics Graduate Group
Darien Shanske (September 16)
Mentor for Proposition 15 – Taxes
Professor of Law and Political Science
UC Davis School of Law
Dr. Kim L. Nalder (September 18)
Mentor for Proposition 15 – Taxes
Professor of Political Science,
Director of the Project for an Informed Electorate,
Executive Director of CalSpeaks Opinion Poll
Zachary Bleemer (September 16)
Mentor for Proposition 16 – Affirmative Action
PhD Candidate in Economics
UC Berkeley
Drew Halfmann (September 18)
Mentor for Proposition 18 – Suffrage for 17-year-olds
Associate Professor of Sociology
UC Davis
Leadership Team for Sacramento Chapter of
the Scholars Strategy Network
Oliver Ehlinger (September 16 – 3pm to 5pm)
Mentor for Proposition 21 – Rent Control
Managing Attorney
Legal Services of Northern California
Mollie D’Agostino (September 16 and 18)
Mentor for Proposition 22 – App-based Drivers
Policy Director, 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program
Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis
Policy Institute for Energy, the Environment, and the Economy
Daniel Sperling (September 16 and 18)
Mentor for Proposition 22 – App-based Drivers
Founding Director, Institute of Transportation Studies
Blue Planet Prize Professor of Engineering and Environmental Science & Policy
University of California, Davis
Board member, California Air Resources Board
Minming Wu Morri (September 18)
Mentor for Proposition 24 – Consumer Privacy
Associate Campus Counsel
UC Davis Office of Campus Counsel 
Campus Privacy Officer
UC Davis Office of Compliance and Policy
Michael Everett (September 16 and 18)
Mentor for Proposition 25 – Criminal Justice
Data Science Fellow,
COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project
UCLA School of Law

Ethan Evans (September 18)
Mentor for Social Science Research Questions and Data
Research Affiliate, UC Davis, Center for Healthcare Policy and Research
Assistant Professor, CSUS Division of Social Work

The UC Davis Researcher Services, Health Sciences Librarians, and Computational Research Services staff are also available for support with locating data sources and framing research questions:

Bruce Abbott (September 16)
Mentor for Health Research, Blaisdell Medical Library

John Daniels (September 16 and 18)
Mentor for Social Sciences research and data, Computational Research Service

David Michalski (September 16 and 18)
Mentor for Social Sciences, geographic, and demographic data, Shields Library

Christy Navarro (September 16 and 18)
Mentor for Health Data, Blaisdell Medical Library

Megan G. Van Noord (September 16)
Mentor for Health and Social Sciences data, Carlson Health Sciences Library

Technical Mentor Office Hours

DataLab’s data science team hosts weekly drop-in office hours on Mondays from 1:30-3:00pm. They can provide support with developing research questions and approaches, troubleshooting your code, and finding learning resources. To join the virtual office hours see this page for details and the Zoom link. DataLab’s technical experts at these drop-in sessions include:

Wesley Brooks, Research Data Science
Naomi Kalman, Data Specialist
Oliver Kryelos, VR Data Programmer
Arthur Koehl, Data Scientist
Justin Merz, Research Support Engineer for Shields Library
Pamela Reynolds, DataLab Associate Director
Tyler Shoemaker, Postdoctoral Scholar for Web App Development
Michele Tobias, Geospatial Data Specialist


Find a Ballot Initiative

The CA November 3, 2020 CA ballot initiatives cover topics including health care, labor regulation, criminal justice, affirmative action, voting rights, affordable housing, consumer privacy, and tax reform.

Ballot Initiative Number Name of Initiative Topic
Prop 14 California Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative Bond Issues, Stem Cells
Prop 15 California Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative Taxes
Prop 16 Affirmative Action Amendment Affirmative Action
Prop 17 Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment Suffrage
Prop 18 Primary Voting for 17-Year-Olds Amendment Suffrage
Prop 19 Property Tax Transfers, Exemptions, and Revenue for Wildfire Agencies and Counties Amendment Taxes
Prop 20 California Criminal Sentencing, Parole, and DNA Collection Initiative Law enforcement
Prop 21 California Local Rent Control Initiative Housing
Prop 22 App-Based Drivers Regulations Initiative Business Regulation, Labor, Unions
Prop 23 Dialysis Clinic Requirements and Consent to Close Initiative Healthcare
Prop 24 Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative Business Regulation
Prop 25 California Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments Referendum Civil and criminal trials

Discover Open Data

Teams are expected to use at least one open data set for their project. Not sure where to start? Check out data made available for California.

Setting up Your Project

Documenting your project