Finding myself awake and in Virginia bright and early on a holiday morning yesterday, I might have chalked my pre-caffeinated grogginess up to a terrible decision. Instead, the final day of DCWeek was anything but. Because while I don’t love early mornings, I’m a huge fan of the Voting Information Project, which brings election data online and powers any number of helpful election tools, from the foursquare “I voted” badge to another service I’ll write about in a moment. And when the New Organizing Institute (the development team behind VIP) organized a panel on Politics for Programmers and invited me to join them, I accepted happily despite the morning schedule.

The morning started with Jared Marcotte, who described his conversion from big tech business to building tools for politics. Aaron Swartz made the first Harry Potter reference of the session, comparing tech skills to wizarding (at least in the eyes of ordinary mortals/muggles). More importantly, he described organizing the online campaign for a single letter in the Dodd-Frank bill – a critical pluralizing s which, if included, would allow a minority group of shareholders to force a vote on executive pay; and which, if excluded, would leave this power only in the hands of large individual shareholders (that is to say, no one).

"Any shareholder(s) - an "s" worth fighting for"

"Any shareholder(s) - an "s" worth fighting for"

Mike Sager followed with a case study on how NGP-VAN’s voter file tools integrated Facebook to mobilize Ohio voters against SB 5 this fall, and Matt Stempeck introduced himself as a visitor returning from Hogwarts – which turns out to mean the MIT Center for Civic Media. As Matt described it, ‘civic media’ is a term that doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, which is a “pretty good sign you’re making something up.” Defining the intersection of social/participatory media, traditional media, and civic engagement is busy work, but with tools like nutritional labels for news consumption, MIT’s certainly generating a conversation.

Josh Tauberer treated us to a Congressional fail whale and discussed how Pop Vox is helping increase the available bandwidth for policy dialogue.

a fail whale for Congress

A fail whale for Congress

And the VIP team showed off a bit of their own work. Tiana Epps-Johnson presented a video on VIP, while Mo Maraqa described how, on the eve of Election Day 2010, a small team built yourfuckingpollingplace.com, adding a layer of profanity and humor to voter data and drawing 250,000 hits in under a week.

Between the all-star panel and the fact that we were speaking in an IMAX theater, I felt a bit intimidated getting up to present a short variation on the usual TurboVote pitch. Thankfully, they enjoy data humor and even laughed at punchlines about hunting down election offices in small towns.

We wound down after two hours of conversation about technology, data, and developing tools for better government. Holiday or no, it was a morningful of ideas worth waking up for.

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