Hacks For Democracy: a Hackathon to Improve Elections and Politics

Hacks For Democracy: a Hackathon to Improve Elections and Politics

This fall is going to be a hard-fought and sour election season both in the United States and in Azavea’s home state of Pennsylvania.

Azaveans have rolling up their sleeves and helped crunched the numbers around two of the latest political challenges in Pennsylvania: redistricting and the state’s new voter ID law.  Our own Daniel McGlone prepared district compactness statistics that were used as evidence in Amanda Holt’s successful appeal against the state legislature’s proposed redistricting plan.  Last month, Tamara Manik-Perlman put together this compelling analysis of demographic data and PennDOT ID holders, revealing a “striking number of Pennsylvanians who could be disenfranchised by the new requirements.”

The election isn’t done yet, though, and neither are we.  Along with the help of the robust civic hacking community in Philadelphia, the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Foundation, SecondMuse, Jarvus Innovations, Esri, ElectNext, CartoDB and Venturef0rth, we’re excited to bring forward Hacks for Democracy, a hackathon focused on elections, politics, and open democratic processes.

Alongside voting, advocacy, and lobbying public officials — all of which are critical parts of democratic life — civic hacking has emerged in the past few years as a new way for citizens to get involved in their local communities, and actually help build the low- and high-tech tools that improve the ways we examine, influence, and interact with our democratic institutions.  Civic hackathons themselves are the clearest in-the-flesh manifestations of this civic hacking movement. They bring together developers, data wranglers, journalists, domain experts, and other community members all under one roof to work together in teams on shared projects.

Civic hackathons face some issues.  Often, the apps that were created during a hackathon represent promising prototypes, but they need more seasoning time than one caffeine-fueled weekend to hammer out all the bugs before they can become a deployable part of a city’s civic infrastructure. The traditional one-weekend hackathon model can be ineffective at maintaining the initial momentum around an app.

We’re organizing Hacks for Democracy to be a different kind of hackathon, and it’s our hope to mitigate some of these well-recognized hurdles.

A key innovation of Hacks for Democracy is that the full sequence of events is much longer than a weekend.  With an API presentation and brainstorming session on the evening of Friday, September 14, through the main weekend at Venturef0rth on September 15 and 16, three Monday evening “open houses” at Azavea, and a final judging event on Friday, October 5, Hacks for Democracy has seven events over almost a full month.  That’s about a full Scrum sprint-length time period for teams to self-organize, sustain momentum, and build a solid, tested app that still will have a month before the election to make some impact.

Hacks for Democracy also has context. We hope our timely theme of elections and politics will be captivating enough and relevant (given the local voter ID law, redistricting fight, and of course the impending election) to attract domain experts and non-developers to this hackathon.  Please, send us your problem statements!

So, are you committed and excited to help make a practical impact on this year’s election cycle? Then sign up and we’ll see you in September! For more information on Hacks For Democracy, check out the website here!