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National Day of Civic Hacking 2013

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This past weekend, over 11,000 individuals connected under the helm of the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) -- a series of local #HackForChange hackathons, unconferences, and meeting of the minds that engaged local communities with open data, code, and tech.

From what we can tell, the NDoCH events were magnetic, drawing together participation from local (and traveling) developers, government officials (including a few mayors!), community leaders, and even 21 federal agencies. The vibe of this national organization not only encouraged a sort of: "If you can't hack with the city you reside in, hack with the one you're physically located in," but also further encouraged cross-pollination of civic applications from community to community (For more highlights from the national scene, check out this Storify feed.) Although Sunlight wasn’t able to attend every one of the 95 events held this past weekend, the events we did attend taught us quite a bit. Below, we’ve rounded up our reflections, recaps, and geeky highlights from the festivities in Baltimore, DC, Montgomery County, North Carolina, and Western Massachusetts.

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New Districts in Sunlight Congress API

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Good news if you were one of the users waiting on our Congress API to support the newly drawn congressional districts! As of today it is possible to pass the districts=2012 flag to the Congress API's districts.getDistrictFromLatLong method to instruct the API to return the district in effect for the 2012 elections.

As you may recall, the data wasn't previously available in a uniform format but thanks to a recent data release from Census.gov we were able to get this data loaded, with days to spare until the election.

The default will remain to return the districts in effect for purposes of representation until the swearing in of the 113th Congress in January 2013 at which point the temporary districts=2012 flag will be retired (but it will be safe to continue to pass the parameter indefinitely).

This change does not yet impact other Sunlight API methods. The Open States district methods and the ZIP code related methods will be updated as that data is available, as described in our last update.)

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A New Face For Open States

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Wonder what the Open States team has been working on since we finished our initial goal of providing information for all 50 states back in March? As promised, we've been focusing on a new OpenStates.org and expanding our API to support full text search and we're finally ready to show you the results.

If you head over to OpenStates.org now you'll see that we've released a beta version of our site, currently available for 20 states. The remaining states are on their way later this year, but we wanted to make sure we took our time and did things right. As you explore the site you'll see all of the information we've been making available via our API. You'll also notice some enhancements made in the last few months like full-text search and enhanced support for legislator photos and contact addresses.

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What Redistricting Means For Sunlight’s APIs

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Gerrymandering political cartoon

With the election 4 months away we're starting to get questions about when our various APIs and projects that depend upon them will return the newly redistricted legislative boundaries.

The short answer is that we will most likely not be able to support new district boundaries until after the November 2012 election (but before they technically go into effect for the purposes of representation in 2013).

If you're interested in the reasoning behind this decision, read on, but be warned, redistricting is a lot more complex than "the state has released new boundaries, let's load them."

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Open States: 50!

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Three years ago at PyCon 2009, we had the first PyCon Open Government Hackathon. Our big project was Open States (then the 50 State Project). The goal was to begin scraping state legislatures' websites in the hope of providing a common format for bill metadata across all 50 states.

Today, as we kick off the 4th Annual Open Government Hackathon at PyCon we're extraordinarily happy to announce one of the most significant milestones in the history of Open States: as of today, all 50 states (as well as DC and Puerto Rico) are now supported via our API and bulk downloads. This makes Open States the first and only completely open, completely free resource for accessing legislative information in a uniform format across all 50 states.

This is a proud day for all of us here and for everyone who has contributed to the project. Over the past three years Open States has grown to be much more than we'd envisioned and a great deal of that is due to great suggestions, contributions, and uses by the entire Open States Community. It is no coincidence that Open States has become Sunlight's most contributed-to open source project; we needed the community to make this project happen, and over 40 of you have answered the call.

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