Students and professors work across the aisle during Election Night Hackathon

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On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, the [email protected] at the MAGIC Center at RIT held the annual Election Night Hackathon. Over 140 students from across campus and across departments gathered together to work on a range of civic projects as the election night results came in. This year’s hackathon was the sixth in a long-standing tradition of civic duty and open source collaboration.

Starting the Election Night Hackathon

Dan Schneiderman updating the news sources on the projector screens during the Election Night Hackathon by FOSS at RIT
Dan Schneiderman updating the news sources on the projector screens

For this year’s event, registration was a ticketed event because of the overwhelming interest in the election. At 5:00pm, the sign-in table popped up in front of the Student Innovation Hall, where the hackathon would take place. Students began lining up to receive their wristband for admission, food, and open source swag.

The space quickly became filled over the next hour as people began settling in for the night to work on projects (or maybe homework). On all sides were a range of projector screens with a range of sources for election night coverage. There would not be a lack of information through the night. In addition to the federal election, local and state elections throughout New York were also included on the projectors.

The Election Night Hackathon was a full house after the kick-off ceremony during the Election Night Hackathon by FOSS at RIT
The Election Night Hackathon was a full house after the kick-off ceremony

The Election Night Hackathon had no shortage of goodies provided by numerous open source organizations, companies, and supporters. The “swag table” featured plenty of stickers for people to add to their laptops or other devices. The Fedora Project, GitHub, Red Hat, the MAGIC Center, and more were available for attendees to pick their favorites out.


At the peak of the event, nearly 140 students, faculty, staff, and local citizens filled the MAGIC Center and overflow work spaces. Dan Schneiderman, the event coordinator and [email protected] Research Associate and Community Liaison, led the event on a high note with a brief kick-off ceremony. Hackers were provided with a list of resources for building applications related to civic hacking. Shortly after the start, attendees began talking with one another to discuss project ideas or other topics to work on throughout the night. Professors and alumni provided mentorship, advice, and help for students planning projects.

Mark Repka works on his 2016 Election Viewer app during the Election Night Hackathon by FOSS at RIT
Mark Repka works on his 2016 Election Viewer app

Tyler Reimold worked on creating an open source server for real-time election updates in a Reddit thread. His Python-based project used the Huffington Post and Reddit APIs to build the application.

Adjunct professor at Monroe Community College  David M. Shein gathered a small group of hackers to build a website. The website,, honors and maps the graves of women around the country who campaigned for the right to vote. The early stage site allows people to add the locations of graves around the country to a map. “I personally loved how a number of our attendees were inspired by the crowds that stopped by Susan B. Anthony’s grave in Rochester, which then led to a project focused on honoring her work,” Schneiderman said.

Additionally, another project was the 2016 Election Viewer by Mark Repka. His Node-powered application delivered a state-by-state breakdown of election results throughout the night. Attendees were encouraged to check it out and provide feedback as he built the site to provide accurate coverage during the heat of the election coverage. You can view Mark’s application on his website, browse its own API, or find the source code on GitHub (MIT License).

Many other students worked on smaller projects or collaborated with professors on other ideas. Dr. Vullo at RIT opened a call for students to help him with a virtual reality idea powered by AFrame. Most of the projects and work from the evening was published on GitHub in the spirit of contributing civic hacking projects to the open source ecosystem.

And the winner is…

After seven hours of hacking and nail-biting, the election results were mostly called by midnight. With a short conclusion speech by Schneiderman, the hackathon began closing down in time for the next day of classes. “[My favorite part was] the collaborations and the mixing of students from majors that don’t usually get to work alongside each other. Attendance was a mix of computer science, marketing, political science, engineering, history, and visual arts,” Schneiderman said. Special thanks for the event go to the MAGIC Center at RIT for providing space and resources for the event. Additional thanks go to Red Hat for supporting the [email protected] initiative so these events are made possible. You can find the full photo album from the event on 500px.

November 8th is a day that will stand in memory for a long time, and the Election Night Hackathon is a great opportunity for students to engage in discussion and collaboration with others in the community to identify issues in the civic area and try to build open source solutions to those problems. We’re looking forward to continuing the tradition next year for the next round of local, state, and federal elections.

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