Home Science & Technology Alaska Hackathon Yields Election Results-Tracking App

Alaska Hackathon Yields Election Results-Tracking App

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Fall 2014 hAKathon - Photo by Lance Ahern
Fall 2014 hAKathon – Photo by Brendan Babb

This week, volunteer coders from Alaska Hackathon released a customizable election results-tracking app, just in time for the statewide election.

Lance Ahern, Geoffrey Humphreys, and Joe Fox worked as a team to create the app as part of their hackathon project. If you wanted to track one or more political races in Alaska, you can use the app by visiting the Alaska Election Watch website, selecting the races you’re interested in, and then enter the phone number that you’d like the text messages to be sent to. Then, all you have to do is wait for the election results to start rolling in after polls close on November 4, 2014.

Anyone who has tracked results on election night (including yours truly) knows that the results come in waves as different precincts submit their ballot counts. If you’re trying to stay up-to-the-minute on election numbers, that can result in an evening spent repeatedly hitting the “refresh” button on your internet browser. The average voter may only want to track one particular race, but those following multiple races can pick as many as he or she wants (or all of them). “For me, the main thing is not being tied to a computer,” said Lance Ahern.

I think the value is, you know, I don’t need all the information; I just want to follow the governor’s race and my district. Right? So I just pick those three and whenever there’s an update, within a few minutes I should know what’s going on. It’s just the fact that I can go off and do whatever without having to think about it and know that I’m going to get the texts.

That set-it-and-forget it convenience factor is something Ahern said he and his team hope will appeal to Alaska voters, which is why they’ve been pushing to get this app ready before the statewide elections next week. Ahern said he encourages people to start signing up before election day to help his team test the system. The app is fueled through Twilio, which feeds the requested election results to the right phone number. Costing a percentage of a cent per text message, the app is funded through a grant to the Code for Anchorage non-profit, an off-shoot of the national Coding for America project. The grant is limited, however, which means if it proves too popular Ahern and a few other contributors may be covering the remaining costs out of pocket. Asked about the possibility of keeping the app running if there is a close race that necessitates a ballot recount, Ahern said he wasn’t worried.

If the results are very well-known pretty quickly, we may send out a message out asking people to kind of turn themselves off if they’ve got what they need, just to keep the load and the cost down. But I think, overall, it’s not going to be that expensive. We can just keep it up, basically, until the election results are very well-known.

The Alaska Election Watch app isn’t the only useful project to come out of these events. Brendan Babb, a member of Alaska Hackathon, helped get Anchorage bus data into Google Maps, which lets riders find directions by bus just like finding car driving directions. Projects resulting from the most recent event include a twitter feed for adoptable pets in Anchorage, a game to learn neighborhoods or geography, a problem-reporting app, and an app that combines public data on trail systems in Alaska into a single source that trail users can use as a resource or contribute to on their own.

Ahern and his team plan to continue to tweak and improve their app up until the November 4, 2014 election, when Alaska voters will get a chance to test out this new experiment in improving the democratic experience.

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You can watch Ahern, Humphreys, and Fox discuss the Alaska Election Watch app in the video below.

[Editor’s Note: This article originally attributed the creation of the PeopleMover app to Alaska Hackathon. The app was created through the Municipality of Anchorage.] 

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