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Copyright 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. No part of these materials may be reproduced, modified, stored in a retrieval system, or retransmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without prior written permission from NPR.

(Want to use this code? Send an email to!)

Elections 2016

What is this?

A rig to consume and display 2016 election results, from primaries through the general election.


The following things are assumed to be true in this documentation.

  • You are running OSX.
  • You are using Python 2.7. (Probably the version that came OSX.)
  • You have virtualenv and virtualenvwrapper installed and working.
  • You have NPR's AWS credentials stored as environment variables locally.
  • You have a local PostgreSQL instance running (RDS required for AWS deployment).

For more details on the technology stack used with the app-template, see our development environment blog post.

What's in here?

The project contains the following folders and important files:

  • admin -- A Flask app to be deployed to a server that provides the admin UI.
    • The admin Flask app.
    • templates: Admin app templates.
  • app -- A Flask app used to build the public, static site.
    • The public Flask app.
    • templates: Public app templates.
  • -- Global project configuration for scripts, deployment, etc.
  • confs -- Server configuration files for nginx and uwsgi. Edit the templates and run fab <dev/production/staging> servers.render_confs, don't edit anything in confs/rendered directly.
  • crontab -- Cron jobs to be installed as part of the project.
  • data -- Data files, such as those used to generate HTML.
  • etc -- Miscellaneous scripts and metadata for project bootstrapping.
  • fabfile -- Fabric commands for automating setup, deployment, data processing, etc.
  • jst -- Javascript (Underscore.js) templates.
  • less -- LESS files, will be compiled to CSS and concatenated for deployment.
  • oauth -- Flask blueprint that manages access to Google Drive.
  • -- Code supporting template rendering.
  • requirements.txt -- Python requirements.
  • static -- Flask blueprint that serves up static files.
  • tests -- Nose2 Python unit tests.
  • www -- Static and compiled assets to be deployed. (a.k.a. "the output")
  • www/assets -- Synchronizes with an S3 bucket containing binary assets (images, audio).
  • www/live-data -- "Live" data deployed to S3 via cron jobs or other mechanisms. (Not deployed with the rest of the project.)
  • www/js/test -- Javascript tests and supporting files.

Bootstrap the project

Node.js is required for the static asset pipeline. If you don't already have it, get it like this:

brew install node
curl | sh

Then bootstrap the project:

cd elections16
mkvirtualenv elections16
pip install -r requirements.txt
npm install
fab update
fab data.bootstrap_db
fab data.load_results
fab data.create_calls
fab data.load_delegates

Problems installing requirements? You may need to run the pip command as ARCHFLAGS=-Wno-error=unused-command-line-argument-hard-error-in-future pip install -r requirements.txt to work around an issue with OSX.

Data commands

Reset the database and rebuild from scratch:

fab dev data.bootstrap_db

Load results for next election:

fab dev data.load_results

Load results for specific election with a date parameter:

fab dev data.load_results:2015-11-03

To run on a server:

fab staging master servers.fabcast:data.load_results:2015-11-03

Controlling State

There are four states to the app: before, during, after and inactive.

You can control the app state separately for local development, staging, and production through the meta sheet of the copy spreadsheet. Those variables are called dev_state, stage_state, and prod_state respectively.

Defining a state determines the card stack that the app renders. Those card stacks are defined in their respective sheets in the copy spreadsheet.

Additionally, you can control the state of the live audio in the app. For live audio to function in the app, the live_audio card must be in the stack that matches the state of the app, and the live_audio variable in the meta sheet must be set to live. If the live audio card is in the current stack, but you want to turn the live audio off, set live_audio in the meta sheet to inactive.

Live events

Bootstrapping Database

To get ready for a new live election event, ensure you do the following before results come in from the AP.

  1. Ensure NEXT_ELECTION_DATE in is set to the current election date.
  2. Ensure ELEX_FLAGS under the else deployment target in is empty.
  3. Rebootstrap your local database: fab data.bootstrap_db
  4. Check the results cards locally and make sure the data is zeroed out, showing the correct elections and candidates.
  5. Ensure ELEX_FLAGS under the production deployment target in is empty.
  6. Ensure LOAD_RESULTS_INTERVAL under the production deployment target in is set to 15 or the chosen speed for the current election results.
  7. If you made any changes to app_config, deploy the latest to Github and make sure it is merged into the stable branch.
  8. Ensure the server's code base is up-to-date: fab production stable servers.checkout_latest
  9. Bootstrap the database on the server: fab production servers.fabcast:data.bootstrap_db
  10. Deploy to the server and restart the deploy service: fab production stable deploy_server
  11. Go to and set all races to accept AP calls unless Domenico/Beth have noted an exception.

Changing the card stack

  1. Change dev_state in the meta sheet of the copy spreadsheet to the state you are moving to.
  2. If we are going to during mode with live audio, make sure live_audio in the meta sheet of the copy spreadsheet is set to live.
  3. Pull the spreadsheet locally with fab text.
  4. Ensure that all the cards are supposed to be in the stack. Check this document to see what each stack should contain. Also make sure that audio is playing in the app if applicable.
  5. Ensure production server code base is up-to-date: fab production stable servers.checkout_latest
  6. Deploy the latest to the client: fab production stable servers.fabcast:deploy_client

Ending the live event

It is likely that the live audio coverage will end before the data stops coming in and before the after mode cards are ready. To account for this scenario, do the following:

  1. Change live_audio in the meta sheet of the copy spreadsheet to inactive.
  2. If you have the app open with live audio running, make sure that the audio stops itself within a few minutes.

Once all results are in or the AP stops tabulating data, you can turn off the results loader by doing the following:

  1. Change LOAD_RESULTS_INTERVAL under the production deployment target in to 0.
  2. Commit your changes and merge into stable.
  3. Deploy the latest to stable: fab production stable deploy_server.

When the after cards are ready, follow the steps for changing the card stack.

Handling single-party/single-race live events

At the moment, the decision about which results cards to render is hard coded. This will be fixed eventually. For now, the parties in the render_results_html function must be set to whatever parties will be represented in the results data.

Generating custom font

This project uses a custom font build powered by Fontello If the font does not exist, it will be created when running fab update. To force generation of the custom font, run:

fab utils.install_font:true

Editing the font is a little tricky -- you have to use the Fontello web gui. To open the gui with your font configuration, run:

fab utils.open_font

Now edit the font, download the font pack, copy the new config.json into this project's fontello directory, and run fab utils.install_font:true again.

Hide project secrets

Project secrets should never be stored in or anywhere else in the repository. They will be leaked to the client if you do. Instead, always store passwords, keys, etc. in environment variables and document that they are needed here in the README.

Any environment variable that starts with $PROJECT_SLUG_ will be automatically loaded when app_config.get_secrets() is called.

Save media assets

Large media assets (images, videos, audio) are synced with an Amazon S3 bucket specified in app_config.ASSETS_S3_BUCKET in a folder with the name of the project. (This bucket should not be the same as any of your app_config.PRODUCTION_S3_BUCKETS or app_config.STAGING_S3_BUCKETS.) This allows everyone who works on the project to access these assets without storing them in the repo, giving us faster clone times and the ability to open source our work.

Syncing these assets requires running a couple different commands at the right times. When you create new assets or make changes to current assets that need to get uploaded to the server, run fab assets.sync. This will do a few things:

  • If there is an asset on S3 that does not exist on your local filesystem it will be downloaded.
  • If there is an asset on that exists on your local filesystem but not on S3, you will be prompted to either upload (type "u") OR delete (type "d") your local copy.
  • You can also upload all local files (type "la") or delete all local files (type "da"). Type "c" to cancel if you aren't sure what to do.
  • If both you and the server have an asset and they are the same, it will be skipped.
  • If both you and the server have an asset and they are different, you will be prompted to take either the remote version (type "r") or the local version (type "l").
  • You can also take all remote versions (type "ra") or all local versions (type "la"). Type "c" to cancel if you aren't sure what to do.

Unfortunantely, there is no automatic way to know when a file has been intentionally deleted from the server or your local directory. When you want to simultaneously remove a file from the server and your local environment (i.e. it is not needed in the project any longer), run fab assets.rm:"www/assets/file_name_here.jpg"

Adding a page to the site

A site can have any number of rendered pages, each with a corresponding template and view. To create a new one:

  • Add a template to the templates directory. Ensure it extends _base.html.
  • Add a corresponding view function to Decorate it with a route to the page name, i.e. @app.route('/filename.html')
  • By convention only views that end with .html and do not start with _ will automatically be rendered when you call fab render.

Run the project

A flask app is used to run the project locally. It will automatically recompile templates and assets on demand.

fab app

Visit localhost:8000 in your browser.

COPY configuration

This app uses a Google Spreadsheet for a simple key/value store that provides an editing workflow.

To access the Google doc, you'll need to create a Google API project via the Google developer console.

Enable the Drive API for your project and create a "web application" client ID.

For the redirect URIs use:

  • http://localhost:8000/authenticate/
  • http://localhost:8888/authenticate/

For the Javascript origins use:

  • http://localhost:8000
  • http://localhost:8888

You'll also need to set some environment variables:

export AUTHOMATIC_SALT="jAmOnYourKeyBoaRd"

Note that AUTHOMATIC_SALT can be set to any random string. It's just cryptographic salt for the authentication library we use.

Once set up, run fab app and visit http://localhost:8000 in your browser. If authentication is not configured, you'll be asked to allow the application for read-only access to Google drive, the account profile, and offline access on behalf of one of your Google accounts. This should be a one-time operation across all app-template projects.

It is possible to grant access to other accounts on a per-project basis by changing GOOGLE_OAUTH_CREDENTIALS_PATH in

COPY editing

View the sample copy spreadsheet.

This document is specified in app_config with the variable COPY_GOOGLE_DOC_KEY. To use your own spreadsheet, change this value to reflect your document's key. (The long string of random looking characters in your Google Docs URL. For example: 1DiE0j6vcCm55Dyj_sV5OJYoNXRRhn_Pjsndba7dVljo)

A few things to note:

  • If there is a column called key, there is expected to be a column called value and rows will be accessed in templates as key/value pairs
  • Rows may also be accessed in templates by row index using iterators (see below)
  • You may have any number of worksheets
  • This document must be "published to the web" using Google Docs' interface

The app template is outfitted with a few fab utility functions that make pulling changes and updating your local data easy.

To update the latest document, simply run:

fab text.update

Note: text.update runs automatically whenever fab render is called.

At the template level, Jinja maintains a COPY object that you can use to access your values in the templates. Using our example sheet, to use the byline key in templates/index.html:

{{ COPY.attribution.byline }}

More generally, you can access anything defined in your Google Doc like so:

{{ COPY.sheet_name.key_name }}

You may also access rows using iterators. In this case, the column headers of the spreadsheet become keys and the row cells values. For example:

{% for row in COPY.sheet_name %}
{{ row.column_one_header }}
{{ row.column_two_header }}
{% endfor %}

When naming keys in the COPY document, please attempt to group them by common prefixes and order them by appearance on the page. For instance:


Arbitrary Google Docs

Sometimes, our projects need to read data from a Google Doc that's not involved with the COPY rig. In this case, we've got a helper function for you to download an arbitrary Google spreadsheet.

This solution will download the uncached version of the document, unlike those methods which use the "publish to the Web" functionality baked into Google Docs. Published versions can take up to 15 minutes up update!

Make sure you're authenticated, then call oauth.get_document(key, file_path).

Here's an example of what you might do:

from copytext import Copy
from oauth import get_document

def read_my_google_doc():
    file_path = 'data/extra_data.xlsx'
    get_document('0AlXMOHKxzQVRdHZuX1UycXplRlBfLVB0UVNldHJYZmc', file_path)
    data = Copy(file_path)

    for row in data['example_list']:
        print '%s: %s' % (row['term'], row['definition'])


Run Python tests

Python unit tests are stored in the tests directory. Run them with fab tests.

Run Javascript tests

Run JavaScript tests with fab js_tests

Compile static assets

Compile LESS to CSS, compile javascript templates to Javascript and minify all assets:

workon elections16
fab render

(This is done automatically whenever you deploy to S3.)

Test the rendered app

If you want to test the app once you've rendered it out, just use the Python webserver:

cd www
python -m SimpleHTTPServer

Deploy to S3

fab staging master deploy

Deploy to EC2

You can deploy to EC2 for a variety of reasons. We cover two cases: Running a dynamic web application ( and executing cron jobs (crontab).

Servers capable of running the app can be setup using our servers project.

For running a Web application:

  • In set DEPLOY_TO_SERVERS to True.
  • Also in set DEPLOY_WEB_SERVICES to True.
  • Run fab staging master servers.setup to configure the server.
  • Run fab staging master deploy to deploy the app.

For running cron jobs:

  • In set DEPLOY_TO_SERVERS to True.
  • Also in, set INSTALL_CRONTAB to True
  • Run fab staging master servers.setup to configure the server.
  • Run fab staging master deploy to deploy the app.

You can configure your EC2 instance to both run Web services and execute cron jobs; just set both environment variables in the fabfile.

You will also need to set any secrets that for local development come from workinprivate in `/etc/environment'.

Install cron jobs

Cron jobs are defined in the file crontab. Each task should use the shim to ensure the project's virtualenv is properly activated prior to execution. For example:

* * * * * ubuntu bash /home/ubuntu/apps/elections16/repository/ fab $DEPLOYMENT_TARGET cron_jobs.test

To install your crontab set INSTALL_CRONTAB to True in Cron jobs will be automatically installed each time you deploy to EC2.

The cron jobs themselves should be defined in fabfile/ whenever possible.

Install web services

Web services are configured in the confs/ folder.

Running fab servers.setup will deploy your confs if you have set DEPLOY_TO_SERVERS and DEPLOY_WEB_SERVICES both to True at the top of

To check that these files are being properly rendered, you can render them locally and see the results in the confs/rendered/ directory.

fab servers.render_confs

You can also deploy only configuration files by running (normally this is invoked by deploy):

fab servers.deploy_confs

Run a remote fab command

Sometimes it makes sense to run a fabric command on the server, for instance, when you need to render using a production database. You can do this with the fabcast fabric command. For example:

fab staging master servers.fabcast:deploy

If any of the commands you run themselves require executing on the server, the server will SSH into itself to run them.


The Google Analytics events tracked in this application are:

Category Action Label Value
elections16 tweet location
elections16 facebook location
elections16 email location
elections16 new-comment
elections16 open-share-discuss
elections16 close-share-discuss
elections16 summary-copied
elections16 featured-tweet-action action
elections16 featured-facebook-action action

Syncing up with localstorage variables uses localStorage to handle user settings like local station. These, in turn, need to be sent along when registering the pageview on This is accomplished with a fork of Zendesk's cross-storage library and a special file that must be placed on

The file must be uploaded via SMB to the static www fileserver in politics/election2016.


App for 2016 primary elections






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