July 27, 2009


ON A recent lazy Sunday morning, while channel surfing, I came across a C-SPAN TV show entitled "Booknotes." The particular episode I fortuitously discovered was about Joseph Sohm, a former history teacher, who has spent over 30 years photographing people, places and events in America. His photos have been published over 50,000 times in publications such as National Geographic, Time, The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Mr. Sohm has a new book out entitled, "Visions of America: Photographing Democracy. The book is the result of photos taken over 30 years from all fifty states that depict different aspects of American democracy. The author recently spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, DC about his life as a photographer, his body of work and his new book. His remarks captivated me but then I am a patriot and a photographer.

Watch the video of Mr. Sohm's talk here.

Read more about Mr. Sohm's new book here.

Visit the "Visions of America" website here. (Be sure to check out the "photo gallery" here).

July 15, 2009


MICROSOFT LAUNCHED its own Twitter search engine today. BingTweets mashes up real-time Twitter search with results from Bing, the increasingly popular search engine. According to the NY Times, "the results is an interesting hybrid product that puts Bing's search results at the center of the experience, while the real-time Twitter feed appears in a sidebar on the left."

Bingtweets looks like an interesting project, but while its tagline is "Fusing Twitter Trends with Bing Insights," the reality is that it displays a Twitter feed next to Bing's search results and there is no real fusion between the two."

The Times continued, "We do like, however, that Microsoft stressed overall trends on Twitter and allows users to quickly get a grasp on what a trending topic is about. After all, Bing's results often display information about current news events like the earthquake in New Zealand today, for example. Breaking these trends down by popular terms, people, places, and products is also quite nice, and we are not aware of any other Twitter search engine that currently does this. We also like the ability to share results directly on Twitter through an oversized form at the top of the page."

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July 12, 2009


AFRICANS ARE gathering at different capital cities Saturday to listen and watch a live video stream of U.S. President Barrack Obama's historic speech to Ghana's Parliament.

People are watching his speech at U.S. embassies in the region, while others participate online via Twitter, Facebook, and the White House blog. The visit is historic because it is the first time it will involve social media and because Obama is visiting Ghana rather than Nigeria, the western African powerhouse; and Kenya, his father's birthplace.

Using campaign-style techniques, Obama's message during his first venture into sub-Saharan Africa consists of the so-called "watch parties" at embassies, broadcasts in "public spaces" and streaming live content on social-networking sites. In Kenya, the U.S. embassy has organized a watch party at the Intercontinental hotel.

The U.S. government has set up a site where users can register to receive SMS (Short Message Service) updates about Obama's visit and send messages and comments. The visit organizers invited users to pre-send SMS messages via MXit, a South African SMS service with 14 million users worldwide.

"We are very proud to have been asked to be part of a campaign to better understand and engage with African youth," said Herman Heunis, MXits founder and CEO.

Obama's visit has generated a lot of debate, because he is insisting on visiting countries that show good examples of democracy and good governance, sending stern messages to countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya.

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July 9, 2009


I HAPPEN to be attending the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT-I know it's a mouthful) conference in Spokane, Washington. Tonight I had a choice of going on a dinner cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene or taking a walking "ghost" tour of the The Davenport Hotel (where I am staying). Not having a lot of energy after a long day of seminars, I decided to return to my room, do some work and maybe get some dinner delivered by room service.

I sat down at a fine wooden desk to check my email and saw that a colleague had sent me a link to one of the sessions from the Buzz 2009: Social Media for Associations event. The session was called from "Brainstorm to Firestorm: Creating an Environment for Viral Marketing Success." The title peaked my curiosity, but not only did it sound interesting, the discussion was led by one of my favorite guys - Guy Kawaski and the panelists included Andy Sernovitz, Brendan Hart, Stacey Kane and Stephanie Miller.

I clicked on the link the colleague had sent my way and I watched the 1 hour 37 minute session. The topic attracted me because my organization has experimented with Twitter and other social media sites as a way to connect with voters. The panel discussion centered on how companies could create buzz using social media and some of the ideas opened my eyes - and all of them could be applied to the public sector.
I highly recommend listening to the session if you are interested in viral marketing and how social media can help your company, government agency and/or association - you can watch the video here.

After the program ended I was reenergized about our social media efforts.

Shortly afterwords, I happened on a LA Times news story that was related to creating a "firestorm" but in a different way. The story was about a fellow who flew on United Airlines from Nova Scotia to Nebraska and the baggage handlers evidently broke his $3,500 guitar and to make matters worse, the company subsequently refused to take responsibility for the damage.

The long and short of it is that the fellow (Dave Carroll) wrote a song about the incident and posted it on YouTube. The music video has now been seen by 795,657 folks and United Airlines has apparently apologized and wants to use the video in its training classes.

While the panel discussion from Buzz2009 centered on how organizations could create a buzz using social media, the same thing is true for consumers, constituents, customers and individuals. Imagine for just a moment if the damaged guitar story was about a constituent who had received horrible treatment at the hands of some bureaucratic government agency.

How would the government agency have responded to a similar video posted on YouTube? How would you have responded if you were that agency's unfortunate manager?

The bottom line here is that social media and the Internet are changing the rules for the way in which the government and constituents interact. The government has "new" resources to reach the people it ostensibly serves but it is also true that constituents have new power - gone are the days of the painfully slow "letter writing campaigns" - today, thousands of people can hear a complaint (or compliment) with just a few keystrokes on a computer.

My suggestion - invest some time and energy and learn more about how social media tools might help you better serve people in your area.

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July 4, 2009


Enjoy the holiday, the fireworks and all the history than has gone before us.

July 3, 2009


A MAJORITY of U.S. voters registered by mail, fax, e-mail or through a motor vehicle agency from 2006 through 2008, a U.S. agency reported Wednesday.

The federal Election Assistance Commission issued its report in accordance with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, the agency said in a release. The report presents information provided by the states on the number of registered voters, the registration process and voter registration list maintenance, and is available at www.eac.gov.

During the two-year time period, a plurality of voters, 30.1 percent, applied for registration at motor vehicle agencies, and 28.8 percent by mail, fax or e-mail, the report said. Still, 14.9 percent applied the old-fashioned way in person at elections offices.

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July 1, 2009


TOO OFTEN, attention to problems with the nation’s electoral process rises and falls with the coming and going of election seasons.

Occasionally it happens that events force the issue back onto the agenda, such as the upheaval in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.

A new discussion began this week when the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act; Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion ensures that the constitutional question will continue to be raised.

But there is a persistent threat to ballot access from election to election, and it is implicated in all reform debates: the voter registration system.

Unlike on many issues in election law and administration, there is a surprising amount of agreement on both sides of the aisle about how to modernize the registration system, for example, by eliminating arcane inefficiencies that waste resources, disenfranchise voters, frustrate election officials and complicate campaigns.

For two years, we were on opposite sides of a historic election, serving as general counsels to the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns. As adversaries, we disagreed passionately about many issues.

Our roles in the campaign, however, were often similar; each of us was responsible for guiding our candidates and campaigns through the overly complex gantlet of election administration. Those experiences led us to an inescapable conclusion: Bringing our voter registration system into the 21st century must be the priority for improving the election process.

It is fortunate that many now recognize this pressing need. Election officials, voting experts, candidates, campaign operatives, policy-makers from both parties and —- most important —- voters are frustrated by the current registration system and the resources it wastes, the fact that millions of eligible Americans are prevented from casting ballots and the insufficiency of the current protections against registration fraud.

These problems are rooted in the system’s near-exclusive reliance on paper voter registration forms.

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THE POPULAR White House online town hall meeting makes its return today on the Internet at 10:15 PDT. The topic is healthcare reform.

President Obama will answer questions from an on-site audience at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va., as well as queries from the Internet. His senior advisor Valerie Jarrett will moderate the event. Unlike Obama's March town hall, which pulled questions about job creation and the economy from a user-generated list on the White House Web site, this time the administration has reached out to social networking site Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

You can watch, discuss, and engage through a Facebook live-stream chat application and viewers can send comments at WhiteHouse.gov/live or take part in a conversation on Twitter using hashtag #WHHCQ.

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June 30, 2009


IF YOU work in the public sector you have stakeholders. Did you ever wonder how to use Web 2.0 technologies to better educate those folks?

If so, you might want to give the "Using Virtual Reality for Stakeholder Engagement" mini-conference some thought. The event is presented by PublicDecisions and will be held on Thursday, July 16 from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (Eastern).

Conducted entirely in the virtual world Second Life, this one-day conference will provide you with the opportunity to experience and learn about the possibilities of hosting stakeholder learning events using virtual reality. You'll participate in presentations (including a virtual deliberation held in Second Life), discussions . . . even "field trips" that demonstrate how virtual reality is being used for stakeholder learning today.

What You'll Learn:
  • The benefits and drawbacks of working with stakeholders in Second Life, including when it's appropriate, efficient and effective—and when it's not
  • How Second Life differs from other technologies used for stakeholder engagement
  • How Second Life can be used for a range of subject areas, including—but not limited to—environmental management
  • Tips for using Second Life effectively, including how to access existing "islands" or spaces within Second Life's virtual world and how to create your own space
No experience is needed in order to attend the conference. You will, however, need to create a Second Life account (it's free) in order to participate. An orientation for registrants new to Second Life (and those who want a refresher) will be provided prior to the conference.

Learn more here >

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SACRAMENTO'S GRAND jury is calling for officials to take steps to allow all elections to be conducted entirely by mail, a process that could save the county $1 million in each election.

The recommendation is contained in the final report of the 2008-2009 grand jury, which was released today and is available online at www.sacgrandjury.org

Elections officials endorsed the recommendation, saying that voting by mail not only saves the county money but promises to increase voter participation.

"We find that when people have the option of voting by mail, they do, they return their ballots," county elections spokesman Brad Buyse said. "It's cheaper, so we don't have to have 600 to 700 polling places and up to five precinct officers at each polling facility."

More people in Sacramento County already are voting by mail than going to polling places, Buyse said.

In the May 19 special election, 63.7 percent of the votes cast were by mail, and in last June's primary election 60 percent of the votes were by mail. In the November general election, however, polling places still received more ballots, with 55.8 percent of votes being cast there.

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June 25, 2009


CITING POLITICAL pressures, the business group pushing the idea of a constitutional convention for the state has begun efforts to hand off that effort to an independent committee.

The Bay Area Council has been championing the idea since last August. More recently, they have found themselves embroiled in a contentious debate over whether a convention should be allowed to consider the property tax limits in 1978’s Proposition 13. This question culminated in an early June conference call with anti-tax groups who threatened to derail the effort.

“We don’t want to get electrocuted on one of third rails of California politics,” said John Grubb, a spokesman for the Council. “We want a neutral process to determine what will be in the constitutional convention.”

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June 24, 2009


FACED WITH a deepening budget crisis and a paralyzed political system, a growing number of Californians have concluded that their government needs a complete overhaul. The New America Foundation sponsored an event, "California v2.0: The Road to Fundamental Reform," to bring together the leaders of the reform movement and citizens to explore different paths to fundamental change, and to discuss some ideas for creating “California v 2.0,” an upgraded political system that meets the challenges of the 21st century.

According to Steven Hill, Director, Political Reform Program of the New America Foundation, "The room was overflowing, with 200 people, plus about a hundred more watched it live through our live webcast. There was a crackling sense of excitement in the room as people begin to contemplate what a constitutional convention could mean for California, as well as the historical sense of responsibility for creating a new future – California 2.0."

Also, you can read Steven Hill's oped piece on the subject of a convention by clicking here.

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June 23, 2009


BETH NOVECK, a New York Law School professor, is President Obama's deputy chief technology officer for open government and she got a lot of ink today in the New York Times. There are two good articles online - one, "Ideas Online, Yes, but Some Not So Presidential," discusses the White House's efforts on open government and how all ideas are not worthy - democracy can be messy, especially on the Internet.

The other article is entitled "Can the Wonks Beat the Trolls on Government Sites?" It starts, "People have been crowing about online communities for decades, but creating a space where people feel comfortable talking to one another is actually a difficult task. Successful online sites have found a way to welcome newcomers, make regulars feel at home and manage the provocations of “trolls,” spammers and misanthropes of all sorts.

The Obama administration is running into some eccentric characters of it own as it tries to build Web sites to get citizens talking about public policy."

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June 22, 2009


AN INFLUENTIAL group of President Obama's backers have unveiled a volunteer coordinating web site modeled on Craigslist. The site, allforgood.org, is a place where "you can find and share ways to do good."

The effort is getting support from Craig Newmark, founder of SF based Craigslist, as well as Arianna Huffington (Publisher, Huffington Post), Paul Rademacher (Google) and others from Adobe, YouTube, Casusecast and the Craigslist Foundation.

Here is a list of what you can do on the site:
  • Find volunteer activities near you.
  • Share volunteer activities with your friends.
  • See what your friends are interested in.
  • Track volunteer activities you care about.
  • Sign in with Facebook, Google, and mure

On a related note, the National Conference on Volunteering and Service is scheduled for June 22-24 in San Francisco.

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June 17, 2009


EVER WONDER about voter registration practices in other nations? Now you can read all about it in a new report issued by the Brennan Center For Justice. The study is entitled "Expanding Democracy: Voter Registration Around the World" and it was authored by Jennifer Rosenberg and Margaret Chen.

Here is a brief excerpt from the summary of the report:

"The experience of these other democracies suggests building a modern voter registration system is a surprisingly straightforward task. In recent years, several democracies have moved to take advantage of new technologies to help build more complete and accurate voter lists. Their experiences are encouraging. These restructured systems reduce administrative costs and improve the accuracy of voter rolls.

This report is a multi-nation examination of the details of voter registration systems. It examines the way sixteen other countries create and keep voter lists. Many of the nations studied are similar to ours in diverse populations, cultural values, and government structures. Their experiences show the clear benefits to voters, overall taxpayer savings, and best practices that can be employed in the United States as Congress drafts reform legislation (and some pitfalls) of concerted reform."

Read More >

Click here for the report >

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June 16, 2009


THOUSANDS OF people began massing in the streets here again on Tuesday to protest Iran’s disputed presidential election, increasing tensions a day after clashes left at least seven people dead during the largest antigovernment demonstration since the Iranian revolution. (Check out some great photos here).

But in answer to the supreme leader’s turnabout call for an examination of opposition charges of vote-rigging, the country’s powerful Guardian Council said Tuesday it was prepared to order only a partial recount, and it ruled out an annulment of the vote, according to state television and news reports.

The concession was rejected by the main opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, and other opponents of the declared winner, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The opponents demand that a new election be held.

(More on the Election Controversy: At this point there are only allegations of fraud in the Iranian election. No real data has showed up but suspicions run high. For instance, Iran uses paper ballots which have to be hand counted. Two hours after the polls closed the state-run news agency claimed that Ahmadinejad had won by 69 percent. "The speed with which the results were certified and the wide margin of victory, coupled with some statistical anomalies, have led many to believe the vote was rigged." See Wired's article on "Crunching Iranian Election Numbers for Evidence of Fraud" here.)

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June 15, 2009


BY THE time Barack Obama took office, he was convinced that the Internet was an extraordinary tool for communicating, organizing, and raising money, and that it also posed a critical vulnerability for national security.

During the campaign, Obama's computer systems were hacked, and the intruders made off with valuable information. As the president recounted in a speech in May, "Between August and October [2008], hackers gained access to e-mails and a range of campaign files, from policy position papers to travel plans. And we worked closely with the CIA, with the FBI and the Secret Service, and hired security consultants to restore the security of our systems." Republican nominee John McCain's campaign computers were also compromised.

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June 14, 2009


UTAH'S OFFICIAL state Web site, www.Utah.gov, unveiled a completely new design, with new features that aim to provide a more engaging experience and encourage users to increase their civic involvement in all state and local government issues.

Key features of the site include:
  • Integration of emerging geographical detection technology to estimate the location of the user and display relevant location-specific information, including local meetings, local government Web sites, local school and library information, local park information, and available local online services.
  • Better usability with more explanation provided for each main menu item and one-stop search for all government agencies, online services, and more than 50,000 government forms. Extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies including: aggregation of 27 state blogs and more than 100 Twitter accounts, helping users quickly find and subscribe to content that interests them; the Utah.gov Facebook page; the Utah.gov Flickr photo group for users to view and upload photos; an updated Multimedia Portal, providing a hub of “channels” of video and audio files sortable by topic or agency; and a centralization of all state RSS feeds.
  • Enhanced display and use of Flash technology, as research demonstrates that 97% of Utah.gov site visitors currently use Adobe's Flash software.
“The new Utah.gov incorporates cutting-edge technologies to enhance the user experience and the usability of the site,” said Stephen J. Fletcher, Chief Information Officer for the State. “This site is ground-breaking in the effort to help citizens find information regardless of the level of government.”

And finally, like the White House, Utah has recently launched a transparency portal (http://transparent.utah.gov). The state also demonstrates its commitment to open government and democratizing information with their new data portal (http://data.utah.gov). Data.Utah.gov can help users find and access Utah data from local, state, and federal government sources, along with over 400 unique geographic data sources. By allowing public access to this raw data, Utah.gov is encouraging citizens to utilize and merge it in new and innovative ways – giving citizens the ability to participate in making government services more effective, accessible, and transparent.

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June 13, 2009


THE STREETS of Iran’s capital erupted in the most intense protests in a decade on Saturday, with riot police officers using batons and tear gas against opposition demonstrators who claimed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had stolen the presidential election.

Witnesses reported that at least one person had been shot dead in clashes with the police in Vanak Square in Tehran. Smoke from burning vehicles and tires hung over the city late Saturday.

The Interior Ministry said Saturday afternoon that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won 62.6 percent of the vote, with Mir Hussein Moussavi, the top challenger, taking just under 34 percent. Turnout was a record 85 percent.

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June 12, 2009


IRANIANS PACKED polling stations from boutique-lined streets in north Tehran to conservative bastions in the countryside Friday with a choice that's left the nation divided and on edge: keeping hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power or electing a reformist who favors greater freedoms and improved ties with the United States.

Crowds formed quickly at many voting sites in areas considered both strongholds for Ahmadinejad and his main rival, reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi, who served as prime minister in the 1980s and has become the surprise hero of a powerful youth-driven movement. At several polling stations in Tehran, mothers held their young children in their arms as they waited in long lines.

"I hope to defeat Ahmadinejad today," said Mahnaz Mottaghi, 23, after casting her ballot at a mosque in central Tehran.

Outside the same polling station, 29-year-old Abbas Rezai said he, his wife and his sister-in-law all voted for Ahmadinejad. "We will have him as a president for another term, for sure," he said.

The fiery, monthlong campaign unleashed passions that could bring a record turnout. The mass rallies, polished campaign slogans, savvy Internet outreach and televised debates more closely resembled Western elections than the scripted campaigns in most other Middle Eastern countries.

In a sign of the bitterness from the campaign, the Interior Ministry — which oversees voting — said all rallies or political gatherings would be banned until after results are announced, which are expected Saturday.

The outcome will not sharply alter Iran's main policies or sway high-level decisions, such as possible talks with Washington. Those crucial policies are all directly controlled by the ruling clerics headed by the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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June 11, 2009


THE UNITED States Election Assistance Commission announces two grants programs to encourage youth involvement in elections and to recruit the next generation of poll workers. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Mock Election Program will make available $300,000 in grant funds to organize and administer mock elections for high school students. A total of $750,000 will be awarded under the Help America Vote College Poll Worker Program to recruit college students to serve as poll workers. The grant application and instructions are available at www.eac.gov/program-areas/grants. For more information, contact Mark Abbott or Julie Ruder at (866) 747-1471 toll-free.

Mock Election Grants
Applications are due before 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, June 30, 2009. The grants are open to state and local election offices and regional and national nonprofit organizations (including faith-based, community-based and tribal organizations). Applicants must propose to administer mock elections in multiple jurisdictions.

College Poll Worker Grants
Applications are due before 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, July 16, 2009. The grants are open to state-controlled institutions of higher education, private institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations. Proposals should include a two-year project plan and a budget supporting activities for election cycles in both 2009 and 2010.

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CALIFORNIA FACES a crater-size, $24 billion deficit - and we’re about to throw away millions more on three elections we don’t need. But here’s the good news: If we adopt Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV, for special elections, we can save that amount and more.

With IRV, taxpayers could save nearly $2 million July 14 (fittingly, Bastille Day).

On May 19, barely 18 percent of voters participated in a special election to replace Hilda Solis, who gave up her 32nd Congressional District seat to become labor secretary. Eight Democrats, three Republicans and one Libertarian ran in this contentious race.

Although she finished first, Judy Chu did not win outright because she fell short of a majority (50 percent plus one). The race now goes to a July 14 runoff election - but it won’t be between the top two finishers, who were both Democrats. Instead, the top Democrat (Chu) will square off against the top Republican (who placed fourth with 10 percent of the vote) and the top Libertarian (who barely mustered 1 percent).

Three things are certain in this race. First, Chu is the odds-on favorite in this overwhelmingly Democratic district. (Last year, 68 percent of its voters chose Barack Obama for president.) Second, taxpayers face a steep tab for this election. According to the Los Angeles County Clerk/Registrar Recorder, it will cost taxpayers over $1.5 million.

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June 10, 2009


AN INNOVATIVE Google advertising tactic helped Virginia state legislator Creigh Deeds clinch Tuesday night's Democratic gubernatorial primary victory. Starting Monday afternoon, the Deeds campaign launched a Google network blast (sometimes called a Google "surge") to capitalize on his weekend gains in the polls and get out the vote for Election Day, according to an email from a Google spokeswoman. His display ads, which encouraged Virginians to "vote today" and referenced a Washington Post endorsement, reached over 80 percent of people online in Northern Virginia on top sites like WashingtonPost.com and WSJ.com.

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THE NEW York Times has launched in Beta a new feature called "Represent." Represent is basically for "political junkies" who want to follow the tweets, votes and news for their elected representatives - from city hall to the state house to Washington.

The site works by allowing a user to enter an address. What comes back is a listing of the political districts for that address, the elected officials' names who represent that address and their most recent Tweets on Twitter.

But the site goes further as it presents maps with political subdivision boundaries for a specific address. It also contains links to stories about the legislators for a particular address. And finally the work in progress has tabs - "On The Floor" and "Around the Web." The On the Floor tab shows the recent votes of the legislators and it lists the final "yes" and "no" tallies on the individual piece of legislation. The Around the Web tab is a search of the web for information and news regarding the specific elected official.

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June 9, 2009


AS CAMPAIGN workers barbecued on his Atlantic City lawn, Fourth Ward coordinator Anthony Cox was hunkered down in the garage, discerning from a laptop the next move in the push to get Mayor Lorenzo Langford a victory by the time polls closed in two hours.

Other campaigners did the same across the seaside resort in the June 2 primary as part of a new twist on the intense street operations to get out the vote that are a tradition in this city, where elections are knock-down, drag-out-to-the-bloody-end affairs.

For Cox, real-time numbers showed turnout among targeted voters in the ward's fourth district was just 15.65 percent, well below that of other areas. Then another ward leader walked in with a message: "I just got a call from headquarters, and they're concerned about 4-4."

So Cox dispatched the volunteers to knock on doors, giving them BlackBerrys designed to provide up-to-the-minute information on how many people had yet to vote in each house and urging one to "Stay in that area and just nail it."

The technology came courtesy of First Tuesday in November, a small voter-tracking company in Galloway whose services are being picked up by campaigns from Democratic-to-the-core Atlantic City to those in the Republican-leaning suburbs of Burlington and Atlantic Counties.

The company invented a system for which a patent is pending that allows everyone in a campaign to access a database of targeted voters via BlackBerrys and laptops connected by wireless Internet. They can then learn in real time which voters have gone to the polls, their voting history, and other personal information.

Read More >

More in Politics Magazine >

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THE WHITE House pushed WhiteHouse.gov/Recovery live yesterday. The site provides snapshots of economic stimulus package dollars at work around the country. The "Roadmap to Recovery" features details about the broad range of activity planned across the United States in the second 100 days of implementing the $787 billion federal boost.

The page will also provide an opportunity for visitors to share stories through comments, photos and videos.

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June 8, 2009


MANY PEOPLE are under the impression that only touch screen voting devices make tabulation mistakes. The truth is that computer technology counts most, if not all, votes in America and anytime technology is used in an election process there could be errors. That is why thorough auditing of election results election is so important.

In a Rapid City, South Dakota election last week (I lived for about a year in Rapid City) an ES&S Automark voting machine added nearly 5,000 ballots to the election night tally. The error was discovered after a manual audit was conducted because election officials were suspicious of the high turnout numbers.

City Finance Officer Jim Preston said, "They're machines. I've learned not to trust them. We have so many checks and balances we go through."

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June 6, 2009


FINANCIALLY, THINGS are bad in California and could get worse. The recent failure of the "budget fix" state propositions caused lawmakers to "get serious" on the spending question and Sacramento has proposed cuts to everything from prisons to schools. Local governments, including schools, cities and counties, can't escape this new era of "cutback management" and public sector leaders everywhere are trying to figure out how to keep their doors open for business.

One creative organization is taking their "budget cuts" protest to the Internet.

The kids at the South Pasadena Unified Grade "A" are protesting the state's budget cuts aimed at public education and have posted a great music video on You Tube. Their music is based on
Woody Guthrie's 1937 original, "Do Re Mi."

I invite you to take a minute from your busy day and enjoy the creativity of the South Pasadena Unified Grade "A" Jug Band. Kudos to the kids and their teachers!

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THE ORGANIZERS of a new event on greater transparency, collaboration, efficiency, and participation in government--the underpinnings of the Government 2.0 movement--plan to showcase leading examples of Gov 2.0 in action. The event, called the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase, is encouraging government-technology architects, managers, and other leaders to step forward with their real-world projects.

Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase will take place Sept. 8 in Washington, D.C., alongside the Gov 2.0 Summit, a brainstorming get-together of technology and government leaders. The events are co-produced by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb, which publishes InformationWeek. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and Army CIO Jeffrey Sorenson will be among the featured speakers at the Gov 2.0 Summit.

Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase organizers plan to feature 20 projects, in five categories: process, provider, partner, protector, and peacemaker. There's also a product category called Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge, hosted by Sunlight Labs. Information on the event and how to submit projects for consideration can be found here.

Speakers selected for the Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase will give five-minute presentations, and a "Govie Award" will go to the top project in each category. It promises to be a great way to see what the Government 2.0 phenomenon is all about.

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June 5, 2009


SOCIAL MEDIA gurus often sound like Zen masters when they try to explain their discipline to initiates or skeptics. To take control, give up the illusion of control. Learn from your audience and embrace the unexpected. Failure is one of the surest signs of success.

Social-media pioneers and proponents from government, academia and industry gathered in Williamsburg, Va., last month at the Government Leadership Summit, which was sponsored by the 1105 Government Information Group, the parent company of Federal Computer Week.

Many of their conversations focused on the paradoxical nature of tools like Twitter and Facebook. It’s not that social media defies logic, like a Zen riddle. But its logic does not necessarily fit easily into government’s traditional models of governance.

Agencies typically take a top-down approach to deploying new applications, with a central office providing the resources and defining specific rules of engagement. That won’t cut it with social media, which works best at the grass-roots of an organization.

Successful deployments involve a push-pull balance between the two. Agency officials need to define basic goals and parameters for the use of social media, but they also need to let an application take on a life of its own.

This way of thinking is a challenge for the federal workforce, said Robert Carey, chief information officer of the Navy Department and one of the first federal CIOs to have an official blog. Some guidance might be needed “to get us out of this very bureaucratic structure into a more collaborative, flat environment,” Carey said.

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June 4, 2009


VOTERS IN the United Kingdom and the Netherlands became the first European Union citizens to go to the polls Thursday to elect a new European Parliament.

The massive election, involving all 27 member states, around 375 million eligible voters and 736 MEP seats, is the biggest exercise in transnational democracy the world has ever seen, with voters from Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, participating for the first time.

Each country in the EU sets its own timetable for voting with most going to the polls on Sunday. In Ireland and the Czech Republic voting takes place on Friday. Counting is due to start on Sunday night.

The powers of the European Parliament -- the EU's main legislative assembly -- have increased significantly since it was establis
hed in 1979, with the parliament often shaping legislation which is then passed down to national parliaments for ratification at member state level.

But there have been fears that this year's contest could be hijacked by extremist parties taking advantage of l
ow turnout across member states.

A "Euro barometer" poll conducted last month found that only a third of potential voters intended to use their mandate, suggesting that participation could be even lower than the 45 percent turnout in 2004.

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June 3, 2009

Allow Procrastinators The Right To Vote

A PRESIDENTIAL candidate supported by fewer than 1 in 3 voting-age citizens, might be considered a laughingstock in many countries. In the United States, we know him by a different name: President Obama.

Despite winning more than twice as many electoral votes as John McCain, the fact remains that only about 30 percent of adult citizens actually voted for our nation's president. And 2008 was a notably high turnout election year.

In 1992, a quarter of the country voted Bill Clinton into office. Just 26 percent of Americans sent Richard Nixon on a path toward infamy. In other words, nearly 90 million of the 120 million voting-age Americans in 1968 did not vote for Nixon. Silent majority, indeed.

Though seeking 100 percent voter turnout is a fool's errand, we cannot be content with missing the bullseye of electoral legitimacy when we have so many arrows left in our quiver. The challenge is obvious: Increase voter turnout.

One underutilized tool is Election Day registration, or EDR. In eight states, including Idaho, Iowa, Maine, and Minnesota, EDR has helped boost voter turnout by about 10 percentage points.

It's no coincidence that the five states with the highest percentage voter turnout in 2008 used EDR. The fact that it benefits underrepresented groups the most, including minorities, lower-income, and young voters, is icing on top.

Yet more than 40 states have declined the opportunity, citing concern about administrative burden or fear of voter-fraud. However, according to numerous studies and interviews with election officials, Election Day registration is manageable and has not led to increased fraud or problems at the polls.

This brings us to a simple question: Is it right (or even necessary) to require citizens to register up to a month before they cast a vote?

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June 2, 2009

1st Government Sponsored TED Talk To Be Held at State Department

THE US State Department on Wednesday afternoon will host the first ever U.S. government-sponsored Technology, Entertainment, Design, or TED, event.

Speakers include social-media analyst Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody; philanthropist Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of the Acumen Fund; futurist Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog; economist Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion; and data visionary Hans Rosling, Karolinska Institutet Professor of International Health. Ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, State's Special Representative for Global Partnerships, will introduce the speakers, and Chris Anderson, curator of TED, will moderate a question-and-answer session. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton launched the Global Partnership Initiative on April 22, which seeks to establish public-private partnerships with foundations, businesses, non-governmental organizations, universities, and faith communities.

TED is an annual invitation-only event in Long Beach, Calif., that began in 1984 where the world's leading thinkers and doers are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). First Lady Michelle Obama and former Vice President Al Gore have both given recent TED talks.

Video from the State Department event will be posted on the TED Web site, www.TED.com.

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Access To Democracy: 5 Important Reforms

SEEKING TO focus the attention of lawmakers and election reform groups on the obstacles to full participation of the American electorate and the path to election reform, Women’s Voices. Women Vote (WVWV) has recently released a comprehensive report titled, “Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote.” Consolidating a variety of studies from expert sources into one document, the findings confirm the most significant obstacles to voter participation and outline those election reforms which would yield the most positive results.

While the study discusses obstacles to voter participation in general, it focuses on the unique impact it has on traditionally under-represented groups who comprise the majority (52%) of the population — African Americans, Latinos, unmarried women and young voters — it is unmarried women who drive this majority and the mission of Women’s Voices Women Vote.

“Unmarried women are the fastest growing large demographic in the population, comprising 25% of the voting age population,” said Page Gardner, president and founder of WVWV, a national nonpartisan organization focused on the increased participation of unmarried women in the civic process.

“Challenges that affect unmarried women most particularly, include greater mobility and access to less economic resources — they have the highest poverty rate of any cross-section of the adult population,” said Gardner. “Yet it is exactly this portion of the population for whom we make voter registration most difficult in this country.”

According to the report, laws posing the most significant obstacles to voter participation fall into five key areas:

1. Voter Registration: controversies over voter registration produced more litigation than any other election issue in 2008, primarily due to outdated and problematic voter registration systems. By allowing reforms such as universal registration and greater uniformity of registration standards, many registration issues could be resolved.

2.Absentee and Early Voting: the rate of voters casting ballots via absentee or early voting methods is on the rise (38 million Americans in 2008). However, the rules surrounding these methods vary significantly from state to state. Given the increased flexibility of these voting methods, relaxing the requirements would increase participation of underrepresented populations, such as hourly workers who cannot afford to take time off from work.

3.Voter Identification Requirements: lack of consistency across state lines in relation to the types of ID required (e.g., driver’s license, proof of citizenship) as well as whether ID is required at all, make it confusing and cumbersome to register and/or cast a ballot.

4.Provisional Ballots: among the top five complaints logged by the Election Protection Coalition’s hotline during the 2004 election were problems with provisional ballots. While the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that voters not on the registration list or lacking proper ID be given a provisional ballot, the regulations surrounding this practice vary from state to state.

5.Voter Lists: state regulations are notably inconsistent when it comes to the maintenance of voter registration lists — from who updates them to how the state maintains them, whether state or local election officials allow for name variations, and how and when the lists are purged.

The full report, “Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote” may be accessed at the Women’s Voices Women Vote Web site by clicking here.

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June 1, 2009

It's Not The Campaign Any More: How The White House is Using Web 2.0 Technologies So Far

THE OBAMA campaign broke new ground in its use of new media and social networking technologies such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to spread information and engage supporters. It also sparked imagination about how these Web 2.0 technologies could usher in a new era of government transparency and citizen participation.

Some observers, however, have been disappointed with the Obama administration’s apparent caution in deploying a wide range of these same technologies on WhiteHouse.gov. In an April poll by Nationaljournal.com, “new media experts from across the political spectrum gave WhiteHouse.gov an average grade of C+. Although they mostly saw the site as an improvement from the previous administration’s, many noted that it remained a one-way forum.”

There are major differences, however, between running a campaign and running the federal government. This introductory essay gives the big picture of the Obama administration’s challenges in deploying Web 2.0 technologies, especially concerning citizen participation. Two accompanying papers examine barriers to federal adoption of Web 2.0 tools and how the federal government should go about procuring these services. The first, “Six New Media Challenges: Legal and Policy Considerations for Federal Use of Web 2.0 Technology,” outlines the unique challenges facing Web 2.0 implementation on federal websites, including privacy issues, disability accessibility, commercial endorsements, and terms of service agreements. The second paper, “How to Buy Free Software: Procuring Web 2.0 Technology for the Federal Government,” looks at novel issues of how the government should select and procure these free tools.

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May 27, 2009

Get 'Em Ready To Vote While They Are Young

AS A key element in what is welcome progress toward universal voter registration, a movement is growing within the states to swing the doors of our democracy wide open, encouraging and facilitating the active participation of young people in the electoral process. From education, to access, to advance registration, more and more legislators and public officials are doing their part to invite young people into the process and kick start habits that can last a lifetime.

When it comes to the political participation of young people, we have come to assume a certain ceiling of enthusiasm; a kind of minimum threshold of apathy that is factored into our expectations. Though last year's presidential campaigns directed significant attention to young voters, and despite having a candidate on both major party tickets imbued with youthfulness and pop culture savvy, actual youth turnout saw only a modest bump from 2004; about 1.5 percentage points according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). Though voters between 18 and 24 were 12.6% of the voting age population, they made up only 9.5% of those who actually voted.

The importance of encouraging youth participation in our democracy is difficult to overstate, and it is in our interest to avoid becoming apathetic about apathy. According to a 2003 study by Alan S. Gerber, Donald P. Green and Ron Shachar in the American Journal of Political Science and Mark Franklin's seminal 2004 book on turnout, Voter Turnout and the Dynamics of Electoral Competition in Established Democracies since 1945, there is a great deal of evidence indicating that participation in one's youth is highly predictive of future participation; in other words, voting is best made into an unkickable habit early in life. We are a country that values the long-term health of our democracy. In hoping that as many people as possible for generations to come will keep themselves informed and reliably take part in elections, we need to take active steps to get young people civically educated, registered, and voting.

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May 26, 2009

Make Every Vote Count

Quick: When did we elect the President last year? If you said November 4th, you're more than a month off. Try December 15th. That's when the electoral college convened in each state to formally ‘elect' Barack Obama president. Despite overturning the popular vote in 2000, efforts to establish direct election of the president– which would require amending the Constitution – have been unable to gain traction in Congress. Now two election reform organizations, relative newcomer National Popular Vote and the more established FairVote, have a promising proposal to use the electoral college for the very end it was intended to circumvent.

On April 28th, Washington became the fifth state in the nation to enact legislation in favor of a national popular vote for president. "Being a blue state since '88, in the primary cycle we draw some attention, but in the general election we draw very little attention from the national campaigns," says State Senator Joe McDermott, the prime sponsor of the bill in the Washington state Senate and a former elector himself. "National Popular Vote would blow that open. Whether the Democrat won by 52 or 57 percent would make a difference nationally. Assuming Washington was still a blue state, what the margin was suddenly becomes important."

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May 24, 2009

A Call For Universal Voter Registration

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 2 and 4 million Americans were unable to vote in the last election because of problems with their registration. And that's just people who tried to vote; in 2006, there were more than 65 million who were eligible to vote, but weren't even registered. That's a third of potential voters.

It doesn't have to be this way. Registration rates in other countries frequently run upwards of 90 percent (both Canada and France hit that mark, for example, while Venezuela stands at roughly 94 percent, and Russia about 97). Now reformers are seizing the moment to use existing law to expand registration, as well as considering new laws that could finally put the United States on an equal footing with many of the world's other democracies.

"That's a pretty staggering number," says Project Vote's executive director Michael Slater of the millions unable to cast a ballot in 2008. "We don't have the egregious problems with voter registration that we had in the past, but it's still a system that's far from perfect and it's still a system that's preventing people from voting in America."

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