UT students participate in first partisan political hackathon

Stephanie Adeline

Ten teams gathered on Sunday at a downtown building to present their ideas on utilizing technology to increase progressive votes.

Participants created apps and websites this weekend at ATX Political Hackathon, the first officially partisan political hackathon in the nation. The hackathon was hosted at Civitas Learning and in partnership with the Texas Democratic Party.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who spoke at the event, said the hackathon represents an intersection between politics and the tech industry.

“Looking at the intersection of technology and elections is not only fascinating, but is crucial if we’re going to change what’s going on politically in our city and in our state and in our country,” Adler said.

The University Democrats participated at the hackathon and won second place. They created “Democats,” a game which rewards players with points for their political engagement in the real world, said Allie Runas, UDems officer and electrical and computer engineering junior.

“Our goal was to make something for young millennial voters who are not likely to be actively engaged in the political process and to find a way to make the political process more engaging,” Runas said.

Robbie Zuazua, electrical and computer engineering senior, participated at the hackathon with three other UT students and said the event is important because it allows people from tech backgrounds to care about political issues.

“A lot of tech people, they just don’t necessarily think about what they’re building, they just do it because it’s cool,” Zuazua said. “This gives you a lot of context and understanding into like things that you can build.”

Cliff Walker, campaign services and candidate recruitment director of the Texas Democratic Party, said the teams provided innovative solutions to existing civic engagement problems.

“I want people to look at these (political) challenges that we have with fresh eyes,” Walker said. “There are things I saw presented tonight that I’ve not seen actively being done in politics in the dozen years I’ve been involved.”

ATX Political Hackathon founder Daniel Webb said the event was not just a way to come up with solutions to problems from a technology side, but it was also a way to bring the community together.

“Hackathons are supposed to be competitive but … half the pitches we saw were referencing other hackathon projects to integrate with,” Webb said during the event. “That is community, that’s people coming together to try to solve problems.”