In 2012, during the presidential election Obama For America released an open source Voter Registration application. This was the first time that a national presidential election released an open source piece of software. There are many lessons to be learned about this experience.
The Voter Registration application is a Ruby on Rails application that takes the required information about a voter and translates the webform to a printable PDF of the National Voter Registration form. The open source version allows anyone to simply download the source code and host a version of the application on their own.
In progressive and partisan technology, Democrats and Republicans do not want to give an advantage to the other side. By releasing this app under the Democratic National Committee it would allow more sites available for voters to register whether it is a partisan site or non-partisan site.
This application was released with a modified MIT license and hosted on Github. Shortly after the application was released the open source community made it evident that the modified MIT license for this application was invalid and that the application was not truly open source. The open source community went back and forth with different members of the DNC to work to get this resolved.
Eventually the licensing issues were solved with an unmodified MIT license accompanied by a advisory notice. For progressive technology and open source this is a big win. This shows that technology used for a Presidential Campaign can be made open source for others to use. This application was the first step by a presidential campaign in making the technology available free and open source.
Ryan Resella is from Valencia, CA. He is currently a Senior Engineer at Upworthy. Prior to that Ryan spent 2012 working as an Engineer on the Technology Team at Obama For America. Ryan also was the Technical Lead at Code for America and a 2011 fellow.
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