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Voting Information Project Prepares San Francisco Hackathon

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, March 24 2014

The Voting Information Project (VIP) is preparing for its third hackathon next weekend in San Francisco, with the aim of encouraging developers to draw on VIP election data and the Google Civic Information API to create tools that make elections information easily accessible to voters.

Hackathon participants will be able to choose from three different tracks, Jared Marcotte, manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts' elections initiatives, explained to techPresident. On the first track, developers can parse through existing datasets for the 2014 California Primary as well as current and historical primary data for all 50 states and Washington, D.C. On the second track developers can work with the Civic Information API to develop new tools while on the third track they can work to update and make improvements to existing applications and projects published on the VIP's GitHub page.

Beyond the weekend of the hackathon, Marcotte said the hope is to forge connections between developers and the Voting Information Project, encouraging them to come back to the data or the prototypes for a future municipal, primary or general election, "[helping to determine] the longevity of the project for years to come."

VIP previously organized hackathons in New York City and the D. C. area.

"We're doing a better job this time at really setting the stage for what would be most useful to voters, [in addition to] the more interesting pieces of information for developers focusing on the big data, focusing on the API, and also giving them the opportunity not to start from zero," Marcotte said. "Before ... we had a lot of different APIs people could pull from, this time it's a lot more focused."

Azavea, the geospatial analysis firm that is developing a white label iOs application for the VIP, will be present at the Hackathon, and will encourage developers to contribute to the source code. Another VIP project is a "giant data processing pipeline for the feeds," Marcotte said. As part of the hackathon, developers can contribute to it, suggest additions and explore different ways of looking at the data, he said, comparing it to "Google Analytics for Elections Data." Another project that developers could help update is an older responsive mobile VIP site.

The raw data files that developers have access to from the states are "at its core geopolitical data," Marcotte said. With information on the streets that make up precincts "that's an extraordinarily visually rich dataset and translates extraordinarily well to maps," he explained. "For one registered address, you can figure out the precinct, the electoral district, from those things we know who their local election official is, where they vote, where they early vote, what's on the ballot."

One focus of the Hackathon will be the California Primary set for June 3. VIP also recently released data for the April 1 Washington D.C. mayoral primary. In a recent blog post, VIP noted that D.C. election officials would be using its ElectionDesk platform to monitor social media and respond in real-time to complaints. Because all the California primary data may not be available yet, Marcotte said Hackathon participants might use the D.C. data for their prototypes and to become familiar with how the API offers access to ballot information and early voting sites.

Keynote speakers Friday and Saturday will be Erika Hall, co-founder and director of strategy at Mule Design Studio, and San Francisco CIO Jay Nath. The judges for the Hackathon will be Jina Bolton, senior product designer with the UX team of Salesforce, Sarah Rienhoff, public sector lead at IDEO, Marci Harris, CEO and co-founder of PopVox, and David Becker, director of election initiatives for Pew.

All participants will receive a $500 credit for the Google Cloud Platform and $20 in printing credits from Lob, while the awards include a $200 cash prize from