(For a Storify version of the #hacks4d event hashtag through the weekend, click here: http://storify.com/azavea/hacks-for-democracy )
After a whole weekend writing web software, nearly 30 developers, designers, civic activists, and political officials assembled with anticipation this past Sunday afternoon in the auditorium area at VentureF0rth. The judges – Philadelphia’s Chief Data Officer Mark Headd, secondmuse’s Mike Brennan, the William Penn Foundation’s Phoenix Wang, and Neil Budde from the Philadelphia Public Interest Information Network – were about to announce the winners of round 1 of Hacks for Democracy.
“This is the first judging panel I’ve been a part of where a large portion of the judging was about, ‘What is this going to be in a month,'” said Mike Brennan, referring to the upcoming follow-up hack evenings and second round of judging scheduled for October 5th, three weeks ahead. “That’s something that doesn’t happen at other hackathons I’ve seen, and it’s really important.”
Hacks for Democracy began with our Brainstorming night, held at Azavea’s offices on the previous Friday evening, which had an unprecedentedly large audience of about 50 people who presented some 14 ideas. That group was of incredibly diverse professional backgrounds relative to hackathons, with many “newbies” at their first-ever civic hacking event, and many civic and political folks that may not have had the same technical skills as the developers in the room but had inspirational ideas and deep domain knowledge of problems to spare. Through the weekend, six teams had come together and built working software around some of those ideas.
First place on Sunday went to Yo! Philly Votes (github here), an idea brought by civic activist Faye Anderson to collect and aggregate real-time social media reports of voting incidents on election day. Developers Joe Tricarico and Daniel Giovanelli contributed. The project is based on Ushahidi, the famous open source crisis-mapping project that arose out of the violence in the 2008 Kenyan elections.
Second place went to VoterID.me (github here), the brainchild of Bula (of Sheltr.org fame), and built by Aaron Ogle and Paul Raccuglia. VoterID.me is a mobile-friendly central location for information about the voter ID laws, rights, and hotlines in all 50 states, using data from the New Organizing Institute’s Organizer’s guide to Election Administration API. This team had a working site by Sunday morning, and by judging time had users in over 16 states (and growing).
Electory (github here), an app and crowdsourced database of local Philadelphia committeepeople, election leaders, and volunteers, won third place. The idea was proposed by Jim Bazis and Tim Wisniewski, and designers, developers, and contributors included Mjumbe Poe, Chris Alfano, Brett Goldman, and Donovan Preddy.
Three teams did not win awards in round one, but as far as we know, all are committed to expanding their apps during round two.
SEPTA developer Mike Zaleski and City GIS technicians Sarah Cordivano and David Walk created SEPTA-n-Reps, a mashup of political district data and SEPTA route information, so a user can find out which representatives have constituents along a bus or train line, and notify them when SEPTA is considering possible service modifications due to budget constraints. For round two, the team wants to put a better front end UI on their project.
Another team composed of Azavea developers Bennet Huber and Adam Hinz geocoded 680,000 addresses off of the Philadelphia voter list, and used Azavea’s GeoTrellis open-source geoprocessing software to make a heatmap of democrat versus republican registrations in the city – revealing which areas are more likely to go which direction. For round two, the team is considering using historic data to see how voting patterns have changed geographically, or implement modeling features – “So you could say things like, what if voter ID reduced turnout by 20% for this group, what would happen?” pondered Adam Hinz during his presentation.
The sixth team was “State-Gov-Tracker,” an idea from Upenn student Christopher Brown to create a comprehensive dashboard for Pennsylvania state representatives and senators. Team members Chris Nies, Jason Blanchard, Lauren Gilchrist, Charlie Milner, Josh Borkowski, and Andrew Thompson (yours truly) used a variety of APIs, including Azavea’s Cicero, the Sunlight Foundation’s OpenStates, official Facebook and Twitter posts for each legislator, a custom Google News search, and campaign finance data from the New York Times, to create many of the backend scripts for the dashboard. In round two, the team hopes to put a usable UI on their project and add some mapping features.
Monday, September 17th saw the first “hack evening” at Azavea, where members of the Electory, State-gov-tracker, and GeoTrellis teams got together for a few more hours of hacking. There are still almost 3 weeks to go in round 2 of Hacks for Democracy, so it will be quite interesting indeed to see what impacts these apps have before and during the election.
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