Technical.ly Philly

Nov. 8, 2012 10:00 am

Philly 311 Election Day app: city departments work together to develop last-minute voter info app

Built over the weekend by a small team of scrappy hackers, the city’s Election Day app was, essentially, a hackathon project. (And now that Election Day is over, it will be deployed again in the future.) That is, a hackathon project that would be uploaded to the city’s Philly 311 app and shared with its thousands […]

Built over the weekend by a small team of scrappy hackers, the city’s Election Day app was, essentially, a hackathon project. (And now that Election Day is over, it will be deployed again in the future.)

That is, a hackathon project that would be uploaded to the city’s Philly 311 app and shared with its thousands of users.

The city launched a last-minute Election Day app on Monday afternoon, one day before the election, said 311 app project manager Tim Wisniewski, who was one of the leads on the project (and has plenty of hackathon practice). Among its features:

  • A polling place locator, with a map to find the exact spot.
  • Information about every candidate, including all their social media handles.
  • The city’s ballot questions.
  • Information about voter ID and voting hours.

Several departments came together to create the app, Wisniewski said. It was PublicStuff, the New York City-based company that built the city’s 311 app, who suggested the app to the city last Friday. PublicStuff staff had heard from Philadelphians who wanted a voter information app, Wisniewski said. When the company offered to work with the city on the project, the city got right on board.

Then the collaboration started.

The City Commissioner’s Office provided the most up-to-date polling location data, while the Office of Innovation and Technology‘s GIS unit made the data app-ready in two hours the Friday before the election.

“It was amazing how quickly [the data] was turned around,” Wisniewski said, adding that this kind of work would usually take the GIS unit several days to finish.

After that, Wisniewski and PublicStuff CTO Vincent Polidoro hacked away all weekend.

The app was finished Monday morning and after testing for bugs, it was launched that afternoon. It’s been disabled since it’s no longer election day, Wisniewski said, but now that the city has built the framework, it will definitely be used for future elections.

Wisniewski said the Election Day app shows the power of the Philly 311 app: The city already had a user base for the 311 app, so it didn’t have to market a whole new product. What’s more, the project didn’t cost anything extra. The cost of the 311 app is continuing to pay off, Wisniewski said.

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Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes began as lead reporter at Technically Philly in July 2012. Previously, she was a city services beat reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, as part of a project called “It’s Our Money.” She is learning to drive, learning to bike (in the city) but is an expert at taking SEPTA. She grew up in North Jersey and Manila, Philippines but she left the tropics for Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in linguistics. She now lives in West Philly.

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