Beyond the choice of whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton should be the next president, Massachusetts voters will have to decide some complicated issues that will appear on the state ballot. Now, some civically minded techies are trying to help voters make sense of the public policy behind the questions.

If you're a voter in Massachusetts, on your ballot this November you'll be asked about issuing an additional resort casino license, charter school expansion, farm animal treatment, and legalizing marijuana. The charter school and marijuana questions are generating the most interest and attracting well financed advocates on both sides.

And with substantial television and radio advertising seeking to sway a Yes or a No, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and WGBH want to know who's paying for all of this. The two news organizations hosted a hackathon at our Brighton studios Wednesday to begin the effort.

So, what is a hackathon? Basically, it's the combined efforts of dozens of data experts - coders, analysts, and other tech-types - who get together to pour over a certain problem or issue, then use their skills to try to arrive at some kind of conclusion.

"We have a database but it needs to be cut up and examined and have some human eyes look at it. And there's where you all come in," Burt Glass, NECIR's executive director said at the event.

Nearly fifty hackers – young, old, male, female – came armed with laptops to dive into state donation data detailing every cent that's flown into influencing the four ballot questions. They used a specially-made app that taps into information from the state's Office of Campaign and Political Financing. Glass said the tool can harness the collective power of hackers interested in civic data to go through in a night what previously would have taken weeks for a reporter to analyze.

Glass said that as an investigative reporting outfit, NECIR is very interested in where the money is coming from that's backing the Yes and No campaigns.

"At the end, we hope to have the grist for some real news stories that will run on WGBH before the election," Glass said.