Open source civic projects at annual Election Night Hackathon

Election night hackathon supports civic engagement

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On November 7, 2017, members of the RIT community came together for the annual Election Night Hackathon held in the Simone Center for Student Innovation. This year marked the seventh anniversary of a civic tradition with the FOSS@MAGIC community. As local and state election results come in across nine projectors, students and professors work together on civic-focused projects during the night. Dan Schneiderman, the FOSS@MAGIC Community Liaison, compiled lists of open APIs that let participants use public sets of data made available by governments at the federal, state, and local level.

The hackathon officially began at 5:00pm and went until 10:00pm. Plenty of pizza and drinks were provided to fuel participants during the evening.

Open source with open government

Each year, the hackathon welcomes students and faculty to analyze civic problems happening in the local community, state, or country, and then propose a project to address them. MAGIC Center faculty help students choose open source licenses to share their projects. Organizers encourage students to use a site like GitHub to publish and share their code.

Second Avenue Learning, an educational game company in Rochester, demonstrated their Voter’s Ed app that replays historic elections, keeps voters up-to-date on current ones, and lets them simulate their own using open data and HTML. It also allows users to examine key issues and hot topics related to national level events. The company, represented by the founder Victoria Van Voorhis and two employees (one an RIT alum) held a design discussion for new features to prototype with students and the community. Sean Sutton and Paul Ferber (RIT faculty) provided subject matter expertise to the application.

While people began their projects, coverage of the local and state elections were displayed across nine different projectors. As the night progressed, votes from local and state elections rolled in. Rochester coverage was enhanced, since Monroe County is one of three counties in New York that releases public data for election coverage. Some participants even used the local Henrietta data for their own projects.

LibreCorps internship

Pratik Shirish Kulkarni, a second-year computer science major from Mumbai, India, presented the current status of his FOSS@MAGIC LibreCorps internship. LibreCorps placed Pratik with UNICEF Innovation in Manhattan, where he worked on MagicBox, a set of big data APIs and technologies used to chart Zika outbreaks and connectivity across schools in Africa.

Pratik demoed some of the work, which he is continuing part-time on campus this semester, funded by UNICEF. Another internship to work on the project is currently posted in Handshake.

Where can I vote?

Chris Bitler demonstrated his "Where can I vote?" app at the end of the Election Night Hackathon
Chris Bitler demonstrated his “Where can I vote?” app at the end of the night

Third-year student Chris Bitler created a tool to make it easier to get to the polling booth. His web application, “Where can I vote?“, takes a specific election and your address, and gives you directions from your address to the closest polling location. It uses the Google Civic Information API to find election data and calculate a specific address’s voting district and candidates.

Chris was exploring for project ideas in the beginning of the hackathon, but quickly found the civic data API returned interesting data about polling locations. “After seeing that, I gave some thought to how some people don’t know their polling location and how a simple website could be useful for that,” Chris said. His web application was motivated by simplicity, so anyone could navigate without being lost in information.

In the spirit of open source, Chris open sourced his project on GitHub under the MIT License.

Linkybook: Local election data in real-time

Another project during the night focused on tracking local election data in Chautauqua, Monroe, and Suffolk Counties. RIT and FOSS@MAGIC alumni Nathaniel Case continued work on his monroe-elections application during the night. The site shows data for all races in the three counties.

During the night, his web application updated in real-time as the results from the local elections began to appear. Election results for the races is quick to understand and read. Additionally, referendum results and other non-partisan elections are available.

Nathaniel open sourced his project on GitHub under both the DBAD and GPLv3 licenses.

Join us next time!

The night ended after a quick round of project demos and finishing up project work. FOSS@MAGIC has more events planned in the near future. On November 15th, Christine Abernathy from Facebook’s Open Source Program talks about how Facebook approaches open source and how they’ve solved engineering problems with it.

You can learn more about the FOSS@MAGIC initiative on their website. Participation on the mailing list is welcome.

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