January 30, 2009

Merging Precincts into Voting Hubs

COUNTIES UP and down California are hurting for cash. Budgets are being cut and election departments are being asked to reduce expenses.

Cost cutting in elections is difficult because state and federal mandates have increased costs dramatically. Sure, you might trim some here and there but election costs are driven primarily by labor and printing expenses and significant cost savings would be most difficult, if not impossible. It takes a fixed number of printed sample ballots and a fixed number of poll workers to conduct an election.

But there is an idea that would maintain election integrity and continue physical polling place elections but at that same time save money. The idea is a move to "voting hubs."
A voting hub is a location, like a city hall, for instance - that opens seven days before the election for several hours a day. Voters then can vote over the course of several days and they can vote in person if they choose. The big difference is that there are no neighborhood polling places on election day - only the voting hubs.

Let's look at costs.

The poll worker costs for 500 precincts is approximately $225,000. Establishing 20 voting hubs that would be operational for seven days would cost approximately $100,000 assuming each voting hub had five staff members and was open for eight hours per day (each worker would be paid $18.00 per hour).

But other savings comes from the reduce amount paid for renting 500 polling places and the cost of recruiting and training 2,000 poll workers.

Total savings for using voting hubs could be as much as $250,000.

Colorado has used voting hubs in past elections and
Phoenix, Arizona is considering using voting hubs for the future. Perhaps it is time for California to try the voting hubs idea? Legislation could allow a couple of counties to pilot the idea and report back to the legislature. If successful, as measured by service to voters, election integrity and money saved, the idea could be abandoned or expanded.

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January 29, 2009

1981 TV Report on the Birth of Internet News - A Must Watch Video

LONG BEFORE anyone had really heard of the the Internet, early home computer users could read their morning newspapers online - sort of. A 1981 TV report on "The Birth of Internet News" begins, "Imagine, if you will, sitting down to your morning coffee, turning on your home computer to see the day's newspaper. Well, it's not as far-fetched as it may seem."

Some other highlights from the video:
  • Both San Francisco papers - Examiner and Chronicle trying the new technology
  • Eight newspapers around the country are using the Internet for news
  • It is an experiment - not in it to make money
  • 2,000-3,000 home computers users in the Bay Area
  • Newspapers by computers - engineers predict we will get all our news this way
  • 2 hours to receive entire newspaper over the modem - and the telephone charge is $5 per hour. That can't compete with the 20 cent street edition

And here we are some twenty-plus years later and the Internet has radically impacted the entire newspaper industry. All across the country newspapers have cut staff and reduced delivery schedules as readership rates have sunk to new lows. They are struggling to survive and one news group that serves the Bay Area said just this morning that its 3,300 workers at 29 daily newspapers must take a week's furlough without pay.

The 1981 report had it right, it just didn't go far enough in its predictions.

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January 27, 2009

The Legend of the Purple Tunnel of Doom Grows!

WHEN I was jailed by the crowd near the now famous Purple Gate at January 20th's Inauguration, I'll admit that I was mad but at the same time I was determined to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

Because I couldn't get into the Purple area, I watched the inauguration on TV like many Americans did despite having traveled some 3,000 miles to witness it first hand.
After the swearing in ceremony I slowly calmed down and wrote about my hellacious experiences on this Blog.

But others, rather than staying mad or just forgetting about the day, got busy organizing. Two Washingtonians by the name of Dave Meyer and Marisa McNee started a Facebook group called "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom" (PTD). Soon 5,775 people had joined the group and its numbers raised the consciousness over the inauguration day ticketing fiasco. The story got the attention of the Washington Post. Those stories in turn got the group a meeting with the Congress's top law enforcement official who was in charge of security at President Obama's swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Terrance Gainer, Senate Sergent-at-Arms.

The legend of the PTD is growing on Facebook. There are six groups now with names like the Sympathizers of the Purple Tunnel of Doom, The California Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom, Allies of the Purple Tunnel of Doom and so on. Group members have set up a Purple Ticket Holder Relief and Restitution Fund to help distraught victims recoup losses through compensation. It currently has no funders, but it is seeking big-name contributors such as Oprah Winfrey.

There is at least one song on the Purple Tunnel of Doom incident. And Cafe Press, a user generated commerce site, has an outlet called PurpleGate 2009 which is selling mugs, bags, special PTD buttons as well as a kids "I Survived the Purple Tunnel of Doom" 100% cotton Baseball Jersey. (And notice the dog shirt!)

And I just checked eBay. Believe it or not Purple Inauguration Tickets - like the one I have -are selling for over $100 dollars. In fact one listing says, "Buy it Now" $1,200. (I could pay for my trip if my ticket was worth $1,200). Over at YouTube there are about 38 videos that have been posted on the subject of the tunnel debacle. The phrase "Purple Tunnel of Doom" has made it to Wikipedia and users are currently in the middle of a debate about whether the term should be included in the official Obama inauguration citation.

And finally, go to Google and type in "Purple Tunnel of Doom" - You should get around 518,000 hits. But the incident has not really made the "big time" yet (and it's doubtful that it ever will) because in the days following January 20th the term PTD did not make it into the top 100 searches as listed by Google.

The latest news on the legendary PTD is that the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said that blue, silver and purple ticket holders who were not admitted to the ceremony will receive copies of the swearing-in invitation and program, photos of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and a color print of the ceremony. As of today there is nothing posted at the committee's site - and excuse me, but I thought everyone with a ticket already had those commemorative items? (When you picked up your ticket at the Congressional office building, those materials were inside the envelope containing the famous - Purple Ticket!)

Oh well. Let's wait and see what happens on that front.

In case you had figured it out by now, the Internet is an amazing tool for people to sell things like the purple tickets but more importantly, as the Obama campaign taught everyone, it is a phenomenal resource for organizing and mobilizing people into action. In the "old days" - pre-Internet, the entire Purple Tunnel of Doom matter would have virtually gone unnoticed.

Postscript: On January 26th, South San Francisco Council member Kevin Mullin and I were interviewed for PenTV's, "The Game." The entire show was devoted to our experiences in Washington, D.C.

You can watch the show if you have cable. Tune in to Channel 26th at these times:
  • January 27 - 9:00 pm
  • January 28 - 6:30 pm
  • January 30 - 8:30 pm
  • February 1 - 6:30 pm

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January 25, 2009

Who Was In Charge?

FROM THE San Mateo County Times comes, "Dispatch from the "Purple Tunnel of Doom." Read about my adventures at the inauguration. And least you think my experience was unique, read this story from the Washington Post and this one too - and today, "Inaugural Missteps and Miscalculations: Authorities Rejected Offers of Aid, Allegedly, And Underestimated Ticket Holder Turnout."

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48 Photographs Worth Seeing

IF YOU have a minute or two, please check out these great photographs of the Inauguration of the POTUS 44, Barack Obama. It's worth the click.

View the photographs >

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January 24, 2009

New Federal "Dream Team" Created to Drive Innovation and Change

ALONG WITH with new positions such as the nation's first CTO, the Obama administration has created a new group, the TIGR (Technology, Innovation and Government Reform) Team.

According to this video recently posted, TIGR is dedicated to fostering innovation within government. As TIGR team member and Washington, D.C., CTO Vivek Kundra explains on the video, "One of the biggest problems of the federal government is that process has trumped outcome ... everyone is focused on compliance; nobody is thinking about innovation and how to drive change within the government." TIGR hopes to foster innovation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of government programs.

Members of the TIGR team have a variety of experience, coming from backgrounds in both the private and public sectors. Along with CTO Kundra, the team includes Beth Noveck, professor of law at New York Law School; Dan Chenok, senior VP and general manager of Pragmatics Inc.; Blair Levin, managing director of Stifel Nicolaus Research Team; and Andrew McLaughlin, head of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google.

Besides focusing on innovation, the TIGR team is also working to increase transparency in government. The team recently was behind the Citizen's Briefing Book, an online program that allowed citizens to put their proposals and ideas about government issues online.

The TIGR also wants to bring other innovative and cost-effective changes to government, such as creating mash-ups with government data and utilizing cloud computing.

The reform team has high hopes for the new administration's ability to accept and implement these IT changes. Andrew McLaughlin explains, saying "I think you're going to see a lot more experimentation across the federal government and a lot more implementation of these kinds of tools that are really commonplace on the Web right now."

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January 21, 2009

I Watched The Inauguration on TV Just Like You

As promised, I did Twitter the inauguration and my photos were posted from my iPhone to Flickr. But beyond that, my inauguration day was one frustration after another although I am still glad I traveled to the Capital.

On the system (or lack thereof) used at yesterday's inauguration to process the masses of people (crowd estimates I have seen so far range from 1.4 million to 2.5 million), Larry Stone, Santa Clara County's Assessor,
said "...this whole thing looks like it was administered by FEMA." I couldn't agree more.

My inauguration experiences were partially shaped by naivety but more so by the ostensible lac
k of any coherent plan to process the huge crowds that became gridlocked in downtown Washington. At some points the scene was mass chaos. At other junctures it was frightening as the press of the crowd got more and more intense. And at others points during the morning, it was just plain hilarious.

Like me, Assessor Stone, despite having a "purple ticket" that was supposed to allow him into close-in priority viewing area, was left in the cold. Security officials locked the gate to his assigned special viewing area with fifteen people in front of him.

In some ways, Assessor Stone was lucky. I couldn't get within 150 yards of the purple area's gated entrance. Imagine wall to wall people for as far as you could see up and down city streets. Intersections were gridlocked with hordes of people converging from different directions with no visible crowd control, no signs, no people on PA systems - nothing. Just several thousands of people trying to find their way from chaos to some free space and order - never mind viewing the inauguration on a jumbotron.

"...This whole thing looks like it was administered by FEMA."


The crowd I got stuck in was between two intersections. People were layered one to another belly to belly up and down the street. It was so tight that there was literally no room to get your arms up to scratch your head. People stood frozen in place by the size of the crowd that was compressed with the boundaries created by buildings.

Then it got worse, if that's possible. About thirty yards from where I was standing (wh
ile feeling a spell of claustrophobia coming over me) a couple of people had some kind injury producing accidents. One lady looked like she had fallen because she had a gash on her forehead and a young man looked like he had broken his leg. Paramedics were called and when the emergency vehicles arrived, they could only inch their way forward because of the masses of people that packed the street. The fire engine and EMS Van continuously sounded their sirens while trying to get to the injured.

Eventually, with the piercing noise and the fact that nobody was moving, the crowd got agitated. At about that same time, however, another large group of people around the corner started chanting, "Yes we can," maybe hoping to ease tensions. We inched forward every few minutes or so. The fireman finally got close enough and out came the stretchers and medical equipment.

One fireman climbed up on construction scaffolding connected to a hotel and he tried to give direction to the people below as he surveyed the scene. Government snipers meanwhile looked down from the building top perches.
The police and secret service appeared from out of nowhere and at that point the crowd was instructed to turn around and go back in the direction "we had come from." The problem was there was no turning, no moving and it was impossible to head in the opposite direction. We were stuck for for around 40 minutes in that spot. Finally, and I don't know how, a single file exit from the gridlock was organized alo
ng a chain linked fence. Slowly, one at a time, people were able to leave the area thus freeing themselves from the crowd.

At some points this adventure was scary. While most people remained positive, some people freaked out while some just tried to muscle their way through the crowd thinking that they had a special privilege or something? The good part was that buried in that mass of humanity it was warm. That's about the only good thing I can say about the situation. So, despite having a special access pass to the inauguration, I never made it anywhere near the area nor to the reception in the Library of Congress that I was invited to.

I actually watched the swearing in ceremony on TV in a neighborhood deli with a handful of residents, a couple of police officers and the staff of the establishment.
And that isn't the half of it.

In the morning before all of that happened, our car was towed from it's overnight parking place in the Arlington County building. The night before we were told by a parking lot attendant that it was OK to park there (the friend who was with me works for Arlington County and parks in this garage regularly. When we went to the car in the morning it was gone. We didn't know what to do for a moment and then we took action. We got the location of the car and we figured out how to get there in the least amount of time as possible to get the towing yard.

We jumped on the Metro and took the twenty minute ride to retrieve the car. At the Metro station we hailed a cab and had him drive us to the storage yard. We walked into a smoke filled room with rough looking guys drinking coffee - paid the fee and drove back to Arlington. This time we parked in a different garage. We grabbed another cab (this was a lucky thing because there were few cabs and lots of potential customers) to take us to the Capitol.
And that's where all the fun really started. Someone asked me last night if I was sad because I had come all this way to be turned away.

My response was, "no way!" I got to check everything out on Monday and just seeing all the decorations, the stage, the media village and all the people was a thrill. I got to talk with visitors from all over the world and share the experience with them. I was fortunate to visit a long-timed friend of mine and see Congress Member Jackie Speier. I was able to experience the history of 2009 Presidential Inauguration from a different perspective.

Do I wish things had gone differently? Sure thing.

All of the interviews I saw on TV were with happy people who were thrilled at being at the inauguration. I can assure you that their were unhappy people and that everything was not perfect. There was a dark side to the inauguration. I was told, for instance, that the
Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies printed up some 250,000 tickets for that special viewing area I mentioned. In my estimation that area might have held 50,000 people. (Nothing but guesses).

What were people thinking when this part of the inauguration was planned?

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January 19, 2009

A Special Day In Washington

OK, by now you know I have traveled to Washington, DC to witness the swearing in of Barack Obama as our 44th President. Part of my day involved standing in a long, long line outside the Cannon House Office Building to get a ticket to the inauguration. Waiting in the cold with thousands of others was an opportunity to talk with people and listen in to many different conversations. It was an amazing experience because while the faces were diverse, people seemed unified by their hopes and dreams for America's future. It was strangers talking to strangers. As they exchanged stories about the election cycle and their own election experiences it was clear that they felt that they had a stake in things to come.

I was struck by the paradox of that moment - those gathered had a collective positive outlook for the future despite their individual anxiety about an economy in chaos and an unpopular war in Iraq.

People from all over the world have converged on Washington to witness history. There is a special energy in the air. A glimpse of tomorrow's swearing in came yesterday with the "We are One Concert" in which an estimated 400,000 attended. On Tuesday there could be up to 2 million people on the Capitol Mall sharing the moment with our nation.

One observer said today that officials estimate that 10,000 tour buses will show up and if those 40 foot buses were lined up end to end they would stretch out for 75 miles.

And tonight people are still swarming around downtown soaking in the sights. Some have sleeping bags - they will obviously spend the night outdoors getting up early to secure their spot for watching the festivities.

Earlier, as I started to write this post, I was thinking about my experiences today and trying to understand why people feel the way they do. Maybe it's because people feel like they have a stake in things - maybe they believe that with the election of Barack Obama they now have a voice. I am not a political scientist and can't explain the phenomenon with any academic certainty but I can tell you that there is something special in the air - a unique climate engulfs Washington tonight.

January 18, 2009

Getting Ready for My Inauguration "Road Trip"

How would you like to go to a $160 million party? That's the ticket I have and it all starts this weekend as I prepare to head to Washington for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20th.

This weekend has included the usual errands, going to the market, dry cleaners and the ATM machine. But it will also have some tasks related to my trip like packing my green suitcase, finding my black overcoat, leather gloves and scarf. And I am packing my silk long johns from REI purchased especially for the anticipated hours of standing outside in the 30 degree weather - along with two million others.

My Jet Blue flight leaves the Oakland airport on Sunday night. After a five hour direct flight I land at Dulles in Washington at 6:30 A.M. their time. Then it's off to Silver Spring, Maryland with my long-time friend Rob for some errands and then back to the city to pick up my inauguration tickets from Representative Anna Eshoo's office. We also plan to stop by Representative Jackie Speier's office for an MLK reception. The rest of Monday will be spent enjoying the sights of downtown as Washington prepares for the big party.

Tuesday will be an early day as we will pick our way to the parade, inauguration, a reception at the Library of Congress and eventually dinner.
Wednesday is going to include meetings with a couple of local officials including the Arlington County Clerk, Paul Ferguson. I hope to also get to the offices of the Election Assistance Commission - and Thursday, Jet Blue brings me back to California.

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January 17, 2009

The Inauguration Online: A Viewer's Guide

As Washington prepares to receive around 2 million visitors, Web sites are busy getting ready for their inauguration visitors also. The big party starts on Tuesday, January 20 at 11:30 ET, and even if you can't get there to brave the low temperatures (estimated to be 30 degrees and mostly cloudy), you can watch the event on your computer in the warmth of your own home.

Here are some places to hang out online this Tuesday:

  • Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies - they are "in charge" of all inaugural activities and they are streaming everything - with closed captioning.
  • CBS News - coverage starts at 7 a.m. ET
  • CNN - has partnered with Facebook to provide live streaming of the swearing-in and Obama's speech.
  • MSNBC - will stream the event live.
  • C-SPAN - coverage starts on January 20 with an online "control room" of various webcasts. Users can choose from one of four live feeds.
  • ABC News - regular coverage here too.
  • Hulu - will provide live streaming coverage starting at noon for two hours.
  • Current TV and Twitter - have partnered to add real-time tweets to Current's broadcast and Webcast of the swearing in.
Don't forget to read my live blogs here on warrenslocum.blogspot.com and my live tweets on Twitter. Hopefully, I will be publishing photographs along the way too.

Enjoy the history online.

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January 15, 2009

100 Days of Service

Since I have the privilege of traveling soon to Washington, D.C. to take part in the inauguration of Barack Obama, our 44th President, I have been thinking about the event, its place in history and how a new administration starts with peace (as in the orderly transition of power) and promise by taking an oath of office.

On January 20
th when a new president takes the oath by repeating these words required by Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," the first 100 days of a new administration starts.

We've been told that it is important to make a good first impression. This is especially true when you start a new job. It is especially critical for a new president.

Everyone - academics, citizens, media folks, world leaders and politicians want to get to know their new leader - they want to know something about his personality, ideas, habits and the way the new leader deals Congress, crises and the issues that arise. They want to measure him against his campaign promises and they wait to see if the President can get things done. As such, those first 100 days can set the tone for the rest of a president's term.

(Interestingly it was the nation's 32
nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who started the "100 days" tradition when he was inaugurated in 1933).


100 days of service would have a significant impact on the lives of people


Obviously the first 100 days of a new president is important. It is a "special time." And what better time could there be for the new President to call the nation to action?

That is why I propose that our new President call on the people of this nation to join him in 100 days of service - to engage in service oriented activities for their community, state and nation. Examples of projects might be cleaning a beach, reading to a young person, sharing an old coat with a homeless shelter. There are countless ways in which individual citizens could be "of service."

Next, I would propose that the new president create an office in the White House designated as Director of Civic Engagement. This person's responsibility would be to reach out to the nation's communities and spread the idea of regular people working to serve others. In addition, I would suggest that each community sponsor a "100 Days of Service" Conference. Interested citizens and leaders could come together to talk about issues like civic engagement and how to make a difference.

Imagine the power of those conversations.

Rotarian's have a motto - "Service Above Self." And that spirit represents the idea behind the 100 days of service. The new President has a unique opportunity to call the nation together for action and just like Kennedy did with the U.S. space program - President Obama could mobilize the hearts, minds and energies of a nation to do exactly the same - make a significant difference in the lives of people.

"Yes we can."

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Talk With President Obama

THE ONLINE Office of the President Elect (Change.gov) has created a "Citizen's Briefing Book" for the new president. It's another great idea that uses the power of the Internet to engage people and build community. At the site, people can share their ideas on issues facing the new administration, then rate or comment on other ideas. The best rated ideas will rise to the top - and be gathered into a book to be delivered to Obama after he is sworn in. Categories include: economy, education, energy and environment, foreign policy, health are, homeland security, service, technology, veterans and additional issues.

While at the site, I did a search for "elections." As of this post there were 25 posts with approximately 100 comments. Some of the titles include:
  • Election Day should be a national holiday
  • Return Civics education to schools
  • Instant Runoff Voting
  • Use retinal scans and fingerprints to verify voters
  • Ban electronic/touch screen voting
  • Fraud-proof elections
  • Citizen owned publicly financed elections
Which topic has generated the most comments? 24 comments have been posted to the "Vote and debate all bills online and show what industries have contributed." In third place, "Provide more information about candidates and issues." Obviously the Obama folks have read The Wisdom of Crowds and Crowdsourcing.

I posted an idea to the "Citizen's Briefing Book" on Reinventing Election Day. In just 12 hours it had 4 comments from readers - check it out by clicking here.

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January 14, 2009

Resizing California's Precincts is Good Business

VOTERS WHO opt to vote permanently vote by mail represent around 40 percent of the registered voters in San Mateo County. People like the convenience of being a permanent vote by mail voter because election materials are automatically sent to them in advance of each election and they can vote their ballot when they want - there is no rush.

A majority of the votes cast are cast by those who vote by mail. At the same time, current law limits the number of registered voters in a precinct to 1,000. In a 50 percent turnout election where 50 percent of the vote is done by mail, a precinct serves a maximum of 250 voters on Election Day - not the 1,000 voters it was originally designed to serve.

This situation forces duplicative cost, waste and poll worker boredom which makes retention a problem and recruiting for subsequent election service an ongoing challenge. It's an unintended consequence of the popularity of voting by mail.

This trend is consistent throughout California with the possible lone exception of Los Angles County.


Resizing California's precincts saves taxpayers dollars, is good for precinct workers and preserves election integrity


Last year Senator Joe Simitian introduced legislation (Senate Bill 967) that would have allowed election officials to reduce the number of required voting precincts by subtracting out the number of permanent vote by mail voters and resizing the precinct boundaries while keeping the total number of in person voters in a precinct at 1,000.

Permitting this change would reduce the number of poll workers required to conduct an election and it would keep the day interesting for them. The change in law would obviously save the dollars and effort necessary to recruit, train and place poll workers and secure, deploy and retrieve the supplies and equipment necessary to conduct an election at the polls.

Simitian's bill made it through both the Assembly and the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Schwartzenegger. His veto message said, "The historic delay in passing the 2008-2009 State Budget has forced me to prioritize the bills sent to my desk at the end of the year's legislative session. Given the delay, I am only signing bills that are the highest priority for California. This bill does not meet that standard and I cannot sign it at this time."

Crazy right?

Well, this year Simitian plans to introduce the bill again.

We support this legislation. It would save taxpayers approximately $180,000 per election in San Mateo County alone (depends on the number of elections in a year). The county could reduce the number of precincts by 70-100 or so and this would have saved residents approximately $750,000 or more in 2008.

Statewide the savings are tremendous. And the good news is this legislation in no way adversely affects voters.

The bottom line is that changing state law to allow for subtracting out permanent vote by mail voters from precincts is good for voters, good for poll workers and a win for election officials. It doesn't in anyway affect the integrity of an election and it maintains California high degree of election security. There are no downsides.

Simitian's idea on precinct resizing is right for California.

January 13, 2009

Election News from the Field

IN ELECTION news today, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to revive the Texas Democratic Party's lawsuit complaing that eSlate voting machines widely used in the state don't properly record straight-party votes. Also in Texas, county officials heard from a computer science professor who said that Gregg County should not rely on eSlate voting machines because they are open to attack (despite the fact that this has never happened and the machines were certified in California following an intensive security analysis). Heading North, Minnesota election officials turned down a Franken request that would have allowed him to take office in the Senate. And in California one county looks to dump its voting equipment (they want to replace Diebold/Premier equipment with Hart InterCivic machines). In Rhode Island a bill would require voters to show photo ID and a Georgia State Representative introduced a bill that would require voters registering for the first time to present their birth certificate. And finally, online voting may be closer than you might imagine.

January 12, 2009

Moving Government from the Past to the Future

ONE OF the significant challenges that we face in the 21st Century is how to move government from the Founder's pen and quill to one that better serves citizens in the Information Age. As Newt Gingrich describes it, "the world that fails (one of paper-based bureaucracies of process, check-lists, regulations, self-preservation and punishment) to the world that works (where entrepreneurs rapidly create adaptable new technologies, incenentivize productivity and innovation with rewards and encourages risk-taking)."

Imagine what that reinvented government might look like.

For certain it would have two main components that support the requirement of transperency and accountability. The first component necessary in this reinvented government would be that public sector performance gets periodically shared with citizens in some type of easy to understand public accountability statement. And the second component would provide ctizens an ability to rate the performance of their government. (The government here refers to every level of the public sector from school boards to the White House).

Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Ramon Cortines, has taken a step toward this kind of future. In the next week he will be sending parents this week a one-page report card that will provide a snapshot of how well their child's school is doing.

For high schools, the report card will provide more accurate dropout figures and display, for example, how many students are proficient in English and math - and whether that number is going up or down. New York City, which assigns a letter grade to every school, is among a handful of school districts to issue such report cards. Funding to develop the report cards came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation while the Boston Consulting Group designed the report card with input from focus groups across the school system.

The cost to mail the report cards is estimated at around $700,000 - just over $1 per student.

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January 10, 2009

High School Students Push to Recall School Board

HIGH SCHOOL students, as a civics project, organized the recall campaign of the entire Big Oak Flat-Groveland School Board after it got rid of their popular math teach over an allegation of plagiarism. Turns out, however, that he was cleared of those charges but the board refused to reinstate him.

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Iraq Headed for a January 31 Election

AS IRAQ nears its provincial elections day, January 31, residents are faced with ballots that could make even Californian's head spin. In total across the country, 14,400 candidates representing 40 political entitites are vying for 440 seats.

Fourteen of Iraq's 18 provinces are holding elections and in Badhdad alone, there are more than 2,400 candidates. They must deal with security concerns and questionable campaign tactics of some contenders who are giving away cooking oil, blankets and cast.

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January 9, 2009

Virtual Government in Second Life: Good Government or Another Failed Tech Effort?

LOCAL OFFICIALS in Arlington County, Va have set up offices in Second Life, a virtual world where users can walk or fly themselves through the obsessions and passions of people everywhere by clicking on screen arrows. And if you can't make the real inauguration on January 20th, visitors can dress up their avatars in white ties and formal gowns and enjoy music, dancing and food at a virtual inaugural ball.

The county's cyber-office, on the first floor of a virtual glass-and-steel tower, sits behind tinted sliding doors, across from a vending machine that sells digital Cheez-Its and Pop-Tarts. Visitors can take a seat in swiveling office chairs and scan understated orange and gray promotional posters as they wait to meet with an economic development official.

Is Arlington County a trend setter, ahead of its time by utilizing a virtual world to serve citizens or is the idea of setting up a Second Life site for a governmental jurisdiction a crazy project of a county tech head?

You decide.

Read More >

Watch a video on Arlington's Second Life >

January 8, 2009

Voting After Church on Sunday Morning

Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) have announced the introduction of the "Weekend Voting Act" in both the Senate and the House of Representatives (no bill number assigned as of this post). The legislation would move Election Day from the first Tuesday in November to the first full weekend in November (similar legislation first introduced in 2002 - the proposal failed that year as well as in subsequent sessions of Congress).

"Holding elections on the first Tuesday of November makes it difficult, even impossible, for many Americans with work and family responsibilities to exercise their fundamental right to vote. Weekend voting would remove unnecessary obstacles to voting and ensure more fair, open, and credible elections for citizens to choose their representatives in government," Kohl said.

In 1845 when Congress decided that America should vote on a Tuesday it made sense. It was the easiest day for farmers in our agrarian society to get to the polls since Monday was "market day" and they were in town to sell their crops. Additionally, Tuesdays were a designated "court day" in which land-owners would typically be in town to conduct business.


Weekend voting would bring more voters to the polls


Times have obviously changed. At the same time, many other countries have tried weekend elections for sometime and the experience has been positive - and also well received by voters since they have more discretionary time available.

Voting should be easy. It should be accessible. It should be convenient for a modern lifestyle. It should encourage Americans to participate.

The Weekend Voting Act would mandate national polls to be open from 10 a.m. (Eastern Time) Saturday to 6 p.m. (ET) Sunday in the 48 contiguous states. Election officials would be permitted to close polls during the overnight hours if they determine it would be inefficient to keep them open.

In today's America, 60 percent of all households have two working adults. Since most polls are open only 12 hours or so - voters only have one or two hours to vote before or after work. As seen in the November 2008 Presidential election, long lines in many polling places across the country kept voters waiting for up to seven hours.

The number one reason given by nonvoters for not casting a ballot is that they're too busy. Like Election Day Registration, weekend voting is a win for voters.

January 7, 2009

Election Day Voter Registration is a Win for Voters

CALIFORNIA VOTERS deserve to have Election Day Registration (EDR) - sometimes called Same Day Registration (SDR). At the present, the law in our state cuts off voter registration at 15 days prior to an election. The affect is that many people are denied the right to vote because they don't "tune in" to the fact that there is an election until a couple of days before Election Day.

Nine states have Same Day Registration - Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin adopted the practice in the 1970s. Idaho, New Hampshire and Wyoming enacted Election Day Registration two decades later. And Montana implemented it in 2006 while Iowa and North Carolina both enacted Election Day Registration in 2007.

In those states the system has worked well and voters have benefited greatly. Reports show that Same Day Registration can be administered efficiently, at low cost, and without threatening the integrity of elections. In short, voters win!


Election Day Registration produces a win for voters


Over the past several decades, Same Day Registration has boosted turnout rates 10 to 12 percentage points higher than non-SDR states in both presidential and midterm elections.

Despite this evidence, the California legislature has been reluctant to adopt Same Day Voter Registration. To their credit, however, they have moved the voter registration deadline from 29 days prior to an election to 15 days.

That change was a step in the right direction but we should do more
if we are committed to the principle that more citizen engagement is a good thing as it strengthens our Democracy without in any way jeopardizing the integrity of the election process.

Here is a brief description of an idea which deserves a statewide conversation.

California's early voting period runs for the 29 days before an election. During that period an up through the 15th day, a voter can register and vote. After the 15th day an early voter must be registered to vote. But how about if we allow unregistered voters to register and vote up until the day before the election? In other words, during the period from the 15th day prior to the election to the day before the election, a potential voter could go to an early voting center, show identification, register and vote.

While this proposal isn't Election Day Registration, it is a step in the right direction. If the studies are accurate, this change would have the following significant impacts:
  1. Produce higher voter turnout
  2. Wouldn't cost taxpayers huge sums of money
  3. Produce a cost effective citizen engagement program
  4. Serve younger voters
  5. Encourages geographically mobile and lower-incomed citizens to vote
  6. Doesn't encourage voter fraud
  7. Produces faster election results by eliminating thousands of provisional ballots
  8. Allows those citizens who were mistakenly purged from the voter roll to vote
Everybody wins! The question is, will the politicians have the will to make this change so voters win?

January 6, 2009

First Female Majority on Board

WOMEN WILL hold a majority on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for the first time today when Carole Groom is sworn in as a new supervisor.

Read More >

10 Documentaries and 18 Short Films About Democracy

WHY DEMOCRACY? Democracy is arguably the greatest political buzzword of our time and is invoked by everyone - but what does it mean? Can it be defined, measured, sfeguarded? Can it be sold, bought, transplanted? Can it grow? Can it die? What does it mean to people who can't even talk about it? What does it mean to people who don't believe in it? What does it mean to you?

In October 2007, ten one-hour films focused on contemporary democracy were broadcast in the world's largest ever factual media event. More than 40 broadcasters, on all conteinents participated - along with an estimated audience of 300 million viewers.

The films were made by independent award-winning filmakers from around the world with subjects ranging from US torture methods to the election of a class monitor in a Chinese primary school to the Danish Cartoons scandal, the films take a wide-ranging and in-depth look at the world we live in today.

Also produced were 18 thought-provoking short films, dealing with personal, political and rights issues around the theme "What does democracy mean to me?

Learn More about Why Democracy >

January 5, 2009

Encouraging Americans to Think More Deeply About Democracy

VOTE DEMOCRACY! encourages everyone-particularly young Americans and new voters-to get involved in the democratic process. Since September 2007, ITVS, in partnership with leading community-based organizations, has spearheaded a series of town halls, voter registration events, online video talkback and public screenings of films from the 2007-2008 season of Independent Lens-all designed to help citizens think more deeply about their place in America's grand experiment. Highlights have included a town hall in Oakland on the electoral process hosted by NPR's Richard Gonzales and an exclusive screening and discussion of "Iron Ladies of Liberia" at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Learn More >

January 4, 2009

Changing the Face of California Politics

ROBERT RUBIN, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Lawyers' Commitee for Civil Rights, said about a Madera Unified School District court case, "I think what we're looking at is a quiet revolution. I think this will sort of usher in the transfer of power from the Anglo community to the Latino community...with fair and equitable voting procedures."

Mr. Rubin was referring to a ruling in September by Madera County Superior Court Judge James E. Oakley, who invalidated, in advance, the results of the November school board election. Oakley said Madera's at-large voting system in which all voters in the district cast ballots for all board members rather than for a candidate representing their section of town, violated the Voting Rights Act.


It's a quiet revolution that could change the
face of California politics...

Relying on the remedy suggested by the law, he called for the district to be divided into seven trustee areas, with candidates to run in each.

Now, other jurisdictions are paying heed In the aftermath of Oakley's order, the Madera City Council decided to switch to district elections. And in Fresno County, where 28 of 32 school boards use at-large elections, all 28 decided to follow Madera's lead and switch to districtions elections. Similiar discussions are taking place in other counties.

This electoral change could transform the face of California politics.

The court's decision in this case has already caused other school districts to change their electoral system. It will be interesting to see if the movment spreads to larger cities and even counties (In another post I wrote about the possibility of this same approach - district elections for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors).

Read More >

January 3, 2009

What Goes on Behind the Scenes in an Elections Office?

On election night, November 7th, San Mateo County did something that no election jurisdiction had ever done before. We broadcast a democracy-based "edutainment" program that showed real-time segments of the elections process from inside the Elections Office - something that is rarely seen by the general public.

It's purpose was to educate the public on how complicated an election really is and the kind of hard work that goes into a countywide election; to bring added transparency to the election process; and to demonstrate the security and practices that lead to votes being counted properly.

Since that show, Anatomy of Election '08 aired, we have posted the segments of the broadcast and posted them on our Web site by chapters. There are ten chapters and a wrap up. Each chapter is around five minutes in length. Some of the topics include Voting by Mail, Voting at the Polls and a special segment where viewers as me questions via email (appropriately named, "Ask Warren." Each segment includes a short narrative explaining the segment.

Overall the election night broadcast was a huge success. Thanks to
PenTV, Comcast, KM2 Communications and San Mateo County for co-sponsoring this historic event.

Go to Anatomy of Election '08 >

January 2, 2009

A Consideration of the Future of the Internet

The Internet is now being pushed to its limits by the phenomenal success of innovative applications in social networking, community communications and business innovation. While other countries are making major investments in their high speed fiber infrastructure to provide the right network for the global marketplace, the U.S. languishes in the Cable Modem-DSL universe that is neither sufficient nor future proofed to insure our continuing viability as a leader in technology.

The National Public Lightpath is a vision, plan and consortium of Public Broadcasting, Community Based Organizations, Industry and people working to create a national high speed network agenda that leverages the strength and vision of universities in partnership with the public and private sectors. In this video, Joaquin Alvarado talks about the benefits of creating "gigabit" networks and how they could be used to teach civics to students worldwide.

Read More >

Visit San Francisco State's Institute for Next Generation Internet

January 1, 2009

Al Franken Could be a Sentator by Next Week

The Minnesota recount is almost over and Al Franken could be declared the winner as soon as Monday. More on the recount here - also take a look at the Election 2008 results map on that same page.

Happy New Year!