I recently read a post on the Technology and Politics blog that featured the work of Scott Chacon. Scott is doing what I think might be the best use of open source software for politics yet. First off, he is running for Congress. If that weren’t enough, he’s also building software that is helping him do that and will make it freely available to others.

GroundWorks – the stuff Scott’s site is running on – is truly groundbreaking. The tools allow for a serious online to offline connection…something that has been missing up to now. It is all tied together in a really neat package that allows a campaign to harness grassroots support in new ways. The thing I’m most excited about is the Community Captains part of it. This tool will allow people to volunteer to head up a precinct or community. They can get other volunteers to do stuff – canvass, phone bank, write letters – and it is all tracked and managed.

The phone banking is really cool because people can call and use the web to track responses, etc. Not only that, they can tie in to the Open Schedule feature to actually ask if the person would like to meet with Scott and then schedule that in real-time. I know there are other tools that accomplish virtual phone-banking, but I’m not sure if they are open-source or not. Question would remain where the data comes from – you would still have to get that and import it.

I recommend checking out both Scott’s site and GroundWorks and following his progress on releasing it. It runs on a lesser known middleware known as Ruby on Rails, but TextDrive has a hosting program where 50% of the fees go back into supporting the development.

Grassroots and Open Source…always a good combination!

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  • Ohio2nd

    That’s impressive stuff. Rails is truly amazing even if Ruby reminds me too much of Basic. I gave up on CivicSpace because of what I saw as it’s clunky codebase. It will be interesting to put this through its paces.

  • Eric

    I feel the same about CivicSpace. Don’t know about the codebase, of course, but our local Dems use it and while it appears powerful, it also is not as intuitive and user friendly and they seem to have had a hard time getting people to use it regularly.

  • Thanks for the mention. I also started with CivicSpace and while I like what some people have done with it, I wanted it to be a bit easier – not just for the users, but also for the developers.

    To answer your question about data – right now the data has to come from two places – the SOV (statement of vote) files for trending and targeting, and the voter file. In CA, Cal Berkley keeps digitized versions of all counties SOV files (thank goodness) available online in it’s statewide database. [ http://swdb.berkeley.edu/ ] These are generally also available at each counties website, but usually in a pdf or something equally difficult to extract information from.

    The voter file has to be purchased from each county and is not standardized and normally costs about $100 per county. CA comes with voter history, phone, name, birthday, address, email, etc – not all states do. If your state does not, you can normally get them from local unions, DCCC, or other long time political orgs. I have included ruby scripts I have used to import these files, but you’ll likely need to modify them or roll your own. Someday down the line there might be some wizard in GroundWorks – but that might take a while.

    Again, thanks for your enthusiasm, I look forward to everyone’s feedback as this project progresses.


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