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Civic Hackers Build App to Visualize Votes in Argentina's National Congress

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, July 24 2013

Screenshot of Década Votada at work

Civic hackers have built an application to help Argentinian citizens and journalists track the voting records of Congress members. The app, called Década votada (A decade in votes), was the winning project at a Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires hackathon in April 2013.

The idea behind the app was to help people understand the party dynamics of congressional members. It was built by Luciano Amor, Gonzalo Bellver, Martín Szyszlican and Andy Tow with contributions from Teresa Alberto Mariela Duarte, Sonia Jalfin, Thalis Kalfigkopoulos, Amalín Ramos, Olivia Sohr and Agustín Telado.

Mariano Blejman interviewed the team for Source, a Knight-Mozilla OpenNews journalism and coding project. He found it was Tow who brought a dataset of the roll-call congressional votes from the past decade (2003 to 2013) to the hackathon. According to the team:

Watching other visualizations that allowed users to group and regroup individuals with different attributes, we realized we could show the positions of legislators in each vote as a “game” in which the winner was the one who was able to add more people to his pie slice. We were inspired by a few parliamentary voting-systems and the US primary election caucuses in which each participant shows his position by physically positioning himself on one side of the room.

The hope is that the app will make it easier to journalists to get the political big picture, and regular citizens “can understand the news they read.”

The official records of congress elections show what is displayed in the news app but not in a very user-friendly way: it shows a number or profile for the vote being held (similar to an ID for the vote), a list of legislators for each vote held, a list of voting blocs, and a list of the votes by bloc.

We wanted to have a general snapshot of every vote to compare and visualize elections. Using colors to identify each political bloc, we were able to see how legislators were regrouped for various votes and understand the composition of Congress and which bloc approved or rejected each issue. By identifying individual legislators it’s possible to see how often they vote according to their party’s agenda.

The group says that, although the app is designed for systems in which representations are chose by district and grouped by political affiliations, that those characteristics can be swapped out if necessary in order to adapt the roll-call vote app in other countries.

Década votada reminds this author of the open source platform Poderopedia, which can track the political, financial and personal relationships of government leaders. It is also aimed at data-driven journalists.

The next step, the Década votada team told Blejman, is to add a search function.

As the winning project at the hackathon, Década votada received seed money from Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, part of a larger initiative co-sponsored by the International Center for Journalists.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.