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What We Worked on at Debug Politics 2017

Shai Sachs

We're seeing a revolution in progressive technology. Everywhere we look, coders are taking to their keyboards in order to build apps and tools to help the resistance. It's one of the most hopeful signs we've seen since the 2016 elections - and we are excited to pitch in and help! NGP VAN's tools are a great way to turbo-charge the progressive hacking community.

This past weekend, we sent a team to Debug Politics LA, a hackathon which hopes to convert the tech community's frustration with politics into meaningful action. Danielle Ameen, Michael McCombie, and I traveled out to LA with two goals in mind: one, work with progressive hackers to build some awesome new tools; two, talk to participants in other teams, find out what sort of projects they're working on - and give them a hand. We're glad to say that the weekend was a great success!

In less than forty-eight hours, we were able to use NGP VAN's Resistance Toolkit and Innovation Platform to build a cutting-edge app for progressives who want to contact their elected officials. We call it Verified Voter Advocacy.

The idea is simple: let progressive activists generate a "voter badge" which will prove their electoral bona-fides to members of Congress and other elected officials. The voter badge we designed communicates quickly and efficiently that an activist is a registered voter, lives in an elected official's district, and goes out and votes. Here's a quick look, for a fictional voter from the great state of Indiana:


The recipe for Verified Voter Advocacy was simple. We added an ActionTag plugin on top of a social advocacy form built with our Resistance Toolkit. When a concerned citizen fills out the social advocacy form, our ActionTag plugin takes that citizen's name and address, and uses our Innovation Platform APIs to search the voterfile for a possible match. If there's a registered voter who matches the user's details, the plugin then generates a voter badge. When the user sends a message or tweet to her elected official, the voter badge is attached at the end. Think of it as the digital equivalent of the "I'm Pro-Choice.. and I Vote!" bumper sticker. The possibilities that this project opens up are very exciting - not only could it help amplify progressive advocacy efforts; it could also give progressive organizers the data they need to target voters based on issues those voters care about.

We also spent a lot of time chatting with hackers from other teams. The variety and creativity displayed in these projects was simply incredible: from voter registration to news visualization, there were a lot of talented folks debugging politics from every possible angle. We gave out NGP VAN sandbox toolkits, so that other teams could take advantage of the same Resistance Toolkit and Innovation Platform that we were using. And we had a lot of conversations exploring how we could collaborate with teams post-hackathon. With so much excitement and interest in advocacy tools and voter engagement, it's easy to see how our tools can be a secret weapon for progressive hackers.

Participating in Debug Politics was an exhilarating and rewarding experience! Not only did we get the chance to build an incredible app - we also got to explore some tremendous opportunities to help other innovators turbo-charge progressive change.


Topics: hackathon