Benetech Partners with Kapor Center and Lawyers’ Committee to Ensure Election Protection

By Benetech, posted on

In the summer of 2016, the Washington, D.C.-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law asked Benetech to find open source developers to build new technology features for Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition that monitors elections across the United States. Our Vote Live, funded by a grant from the Kapor Center for Social Impact, is an electronic ticketing management system connected to a hotline where individuals who volunteer at local polling locations can call a phone number (866-our-vote) to report irregularities or issues.

The Lawyers’ Committee does an impeccable job keeping elections fair and monitored through the use of Our Vote Live. Each call creates a ticket in the system which is then addressed and resolved. According to Brian Duggan, Technology Coordinator for Election Protection at the Lawyers’ Committee, they received over 20,000 tickets from the 2016 election. Explains Brian:

Early this year, I realized that I could not meet all the 2016 requirements for Our Vote Live by myself. I needed help. Expert help. I turned to Benetech’s Code Alliance and Professor Tanina Rostain at Georgetown Law School to recruit volunteers for Election Protection. These volunteers would need extensive backgrounds in software development and possess uncommon expertise in web programming languages and techniques to make Our Vote Live perform at scale in 2016. It is not hyperbole to say that Election Protection would not have operated this year without the dedicated, talented volunteers that I met through Code Alliance and Professor Rostain. Together, these volunteers developed new, state-of-the-art, user-facing interfaces to Our Vote Live. They developed software to onboard hundreds of Our Vote Live volunteers within hours, rather than days. And they built components to communicate to volunteers their responsibility to protect the privacy of the voters they support.

Brian worked with Code Alliance’s volunteer project manager, Alissa May, on creating a workflow process that each volunteer could follow to address the various technical needs of improving Our Vote Live. Brian set up tasks on GitHub and GitLab and assigned work to Code Alliance’s technical volunteers and tracked them through these systems. Alissa handled the logistics, Brian handled the technical review process, and both had regular check-ins with each volunteer. Their teamwork really paid off.

At the end of the four-month volunteer engagement, the application had two new interfaces. The first allowed election volunteers to create accounts so they could interact with the system. The second project involved some scripting and back-end development work to help manage the types of tickets and the categories or tags associated with them. The four engineering volunteers were Shreya Kushwaha, Ivan Marchand, Ben Schoenfeld, and Rajul Srivastava. Ivan and Rajul did some back-end work, including helping Brian fix bugs and create new data transfer pipelines. Ben and Shreya helped create a better interface for the main application using JavaScript front-ends. The technologies they used included Angular.js, Perl scripting, MySQL database work, and some Python.

Benetech’s Code Alliance program is more than just a technical matching service; we understand the nuances and challenges in the technology-for-social-impact space: time constraints, cost constraints, and misaligned expectations. Social impact technology projects often unite professionals from vastly different fields who may not understand how complex a certain technical system can be.

In addition, Code Alliance knows that accurate and compelling data gathered by nonprofit organizations at scale can have a significant impact on human rights, public policy, and even legislation. The critical voting data gathered by Election Protection helps all American voters gain access to the polls and overcome obstacles to voting in future elections.

Volunteers through a Code Alliance program benefit from using their technical skills on real-world projects that have an immediate impact. Nonprofits get experts they can collaborate with to fix bugs and make iterative changes in a collegial and innovative environment. In addition, open source volunteer developers often bring their own ideas in a more organic way to devise solutions that the original project leads may not have expected. There is also something joyous about working with a volunteer developer team that is mission-driven and cares about the outcome beyond just fixing the technology itself.

The goal of Code Alliance is to encourage open source software development for the social sector and help communities connect with one another to create solutions. In 2017, Code Alliance plans to help cohorts and teams of nonprofits working in diverse fields decide which open source technologies will best serve them and organize events to facilitate the development of those technologies.

About Code Alliance

Code Alliance is a Benetech Labs’ initiative that brings together developers, nonprofits, and tech companies to harness the power of open source and make an impact.