Election Night Hackathon: Organizer’s guide

This page is an organizer’s guide for the RIT Election Night Hackathon (ENH). It provides context on what the ENH is, how to organize one, and a historical reference of past ENHs.

What is it?

ENH is a traditional event hosted by FOSS@MAGIC every November on Election Night in the United States. It is a night to celebrate the tradition of democracy in the United States by working on civic-focused projects (or in many cases, assignments due the next day). While projects are often technology-focused, the scope is beyond technology too. It is also a place for our community to gather and make connections with folks who do not typically participate in the wider FOSS@RIT community.

How to organize

Sections below are in sequential order.

Reserve venue

First, reserve a venue for the ENH. Attendance varies depending if it is a presidential election year or not. On presidential election years, attendee counts are around 100 people. On midterm election years, attendee counts are between 10 to 30 people. Choose a venue accordingly.

Typically, venue logistics are worked out in partnership with the RIT MAGIC Center.

Set up RSVP system

Next, set up some sort of system to collect RSVPs for the event.

Historically we have used Eventbrite for this. The Eventbrite account is a personal account for individual student employees; there is not a shared FOSS@MAGIC Eventbrite account. However, note discussion about switching to the Meetup.com platform in FOSSRIT/tasks#112. Whichever system is used, the only critical requirement is a free and easy way for community members to RSVP with an email address so we can order an appropriate amount of food.

Publish ENH on FOSS@MAGIC website

The ENH needs an event profile on the FOSS@MAGIC website. This provides us a static link to share for community outreach and promotion. See Website - How to create event profiles for how to do this.

Promote ENH

Once the event profile is published and RSVP system is in place, begin promoting the event. Typically we share the event profile on the FOSS@MAGIC website in the following places:

Reach out to community organizations

Sometimes we partner with local community organizations for the ENH. For example, in 2019, a hackathon activity involved transcribing suffagist papers in collaboration with the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. We have also partnered with other organizations like WXXI and Second Avenue Learning.

Ask for support from FOSS@MAGIC staff on this task.

Recruit volunteers

Having 3-4 volunteers for the night makes life as an organizer much easier. Volunteer responsibilities typically include the following:

  • Help unpack food when it arrives
  • Run registration desk / check-in arriving participants
  • Provide/share stickers near registration desk
  • Set up tables / power sources, if applicable
  • Answer questions from attendees, direct to someone who can help if they cannot

It is not a lot of work and when there are a few people helping out, it reduces the stress factor significantly. Publish an announcement on the FOSS@MAGIC website with a Google Form for volunteer sign-ups. Usually a firm schedule is not necessary, but make sure to get an idea of how long each volunteer can spend at the hackathon. Get final confirmations from volunteers about 1-2 weeks before the ENH.

Pre-order food/drinks

The afternoon of the ENH, pre-order food and drinks based on current RSVP counts. Note from past experience, a lot of RSVPs will not show and there will be a fair amount of people who walk in by chance. Try to accommodate diverse dietary needs especially if ordering pizza, e.g. gluten-free options, vegan options, vegetarian pizzas, etc.

It could be a good idea to include this as a registration question in the RSVP system in the future.

Prepare kick-off materials

Prepare an introductory slide deck and any speaker notes to kick off the ENH. This happens in the first 30 minutes of the hackathon. It usually includes the following:

  • Introduction to FOSS@MAGIC
  • Introduction to any partner organizations
  • Logistics for the evening
    • Share public lists of resources, if any (e.g. links to civic APIs, public data sources, etc.)
    • When hacking ends
    • When project demos begin
    • Details on prizes, if any (we usually don’t though)

This is usually led by FOSS@MAGIC staff, but there is no reason why a student volunteer cannot help co-lead this part too.

Have fun!

Have fun and let the hacking begin! Coordinate with volunteers as needed depending on overall crowd size. If it is a presidential election year, be mindful of building fire code for how many people can be in one space at a time.

Historical archive

This section is an informal collection of blog posts, tweets, event reports, and other media related to the Election Night Hackathon at RIT: