Open States API at Hacks for Democracy in Philadelphia


This month, the first Hacks for Democracy event has been ongoing in Philadelphia. A new hackathon idea, #hacks4d hopes to address a frequent criticism of civic hackathons: projects are often started with enthusiasm, but less often carried through to finished product. To that end, the event, which began as a weekend-long hackathon from 9/14 through the 9/16, has invited its participants back on 9/17, 9/24 and 10/1. The post-hackathon events are meant to encourage continued development and advisement over the course of a month. On the final day of the initial hackathon, a first round of demos and judging took place. A second round will be conducted on October 5th, one month before the general election.

Hacks for Democracy is being organized by Azavea, a Philadelphia data firm specializing in geospatial analysis, and Knight-Mozilla OpenNews. VentureF0rth has been providing the venue. The initial reception event and the hackathon itself were both very well attended. At the reception, both technologists and non-technical stakeholder activists were represented, and more than a dozen excellent ideas were proposed. Excitement around the resources available was obvious, and this initial event gave each resource provider an opportunity to give a brief tour of what was available and the terms of use (Sunlight’s presentation can be found here).

Five teams formed, each taking on one of the proposed ideas. The excellent organization of the event can be seen on its home page, which allows participants and observers to track progress on the ongoing projects, and see brief descriptions of the other solutions proposed during the initial brainstorm. This site also served as a central directory of the resources available to each team from sponsors and participating organizations.

State Gov Tracker

Sunlight’s Open States API is being put to use by the State Gov Tracker project. The team’s goal is to “create a simple-to-use web application that makes monitoring the activity of state elected officials much easier for the average person.” The final product will be a dashboard that includes basic information about a user’s representatives, as well as multiple real time streams representing roll call votes, social media messaging and campaign finance data.

Using the Open States API, the team has been able to obtain recent votes and co-sponsorships in the PA General Assembly. Their software performs continuous analysis of this data to “create ideology/preference scores” in order to describe each member of the General Assembly on a continuum between conservative and liberal.