March 31, 2009

Salary Cut Sparks Outrage: Was it Legal?

WHAT WENT wrong in Daly City when the City Council voted to cut the salary of the elected City Clerk? I have always understood that the salary of an elected official could not be cut during a term of office but rather could only be adjusted prior to the filing period for office.

On what legal grounds did the Council act to cut the salary of an elected official during her term of office?

It's a mystery at this point.

City officials said the pay cut will help plug a two-year, $6 million budget shortfall. But members of the audience stepped up in defense of the 46-year-old, who was elected to a four-year term in November, and objected to the pay cut.

Many called it a "draconian." They expressed anger at the council and City Manager Pat Martel who they say "unfairly" targeted the clerk.

Annette Hipona, the Daly City Clerk, who also spoke at the meeting, accused the council of "political retribution" for winning the election by a "wide margin of over 60 percent of the public vote." She said some council members endorsed opponent Teresa Proano.

Hipona failed to finish her speech before the council and was almost escorted out of the council chamber by two Daly City police officers for exceeding a two-minute time limit. The officers were at Hipona's sides before she returned to her seat.

In my thirty years in public service I have never heard of this kind of treatment of an elected official. It will be interesting to see how this story eventually ends up after the legal research is completed.

And another related story of the games being played with elected positions in California.

It is disturbing that a very similar thing has happened in Cloverdale, California. Several years ago the council there unfunded the elective office of City Treasurer and no one runs for the office. When no one runs, the City Council appoints another city employee to fill the position in name only. Most recently they bifurcated the duties of City Clerk and Records Manager assigning a salary of $500 a month to the City Clerk portion and the remainder of the salary to the Records Manager portion. They then eliminated the Records Manager position leaving the elected City Clerk with a salary of $500 per month.

The last time they went to the ballot in an attempt to make the offices appointive the city residents voted overwhelmingly to keep the elected office.

Got a story from your area of power grabs by locally elected officials? Send it to

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March 28, 2009

4,000 Cities in 88 Countries to Join Earth Hour Tonight

FROM THE Great Pyramids to the Acropolis, the London Eye to the Las Vegas strip, nearly 4,000 cities and towns in 88 countries planned to join in the World Wildlife Fund sponsored event, Earth Hour - a time zone-by-time zone plan to dim nonessential lights between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Involvement in the effort has exploded since last year's Earth Hour, which drew participation from 400 cities after Sydney held a solo event in 2007. Interest has spiked ahead of planned negotiations on a new global warming treaty in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December. The last global accord, the Kyoto Protocol, is set to expire in 2012.

Despite the boost in interest from the Copenhagen negotiations, organizers initially worried enthusiasm for this year's event would wane with the world's attention focused largely on the global economic crisis, Earth Hour executive director Andy Ridley told The Associated Press. Strangely enough, he said, it's seemed to have the opposite effect.

"Earth Hour has always been a positive campaign; it's always around street parties, not street protests, it's the idea of hope not despair. And I think that's something that's been incredibly important this year because there is so much despair around," he said. "On the other side of it, there's savings in cutting your power usage and being more sustainable and more efficient."

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Interactive Database Allows Search of Groups Lobbying State Government

During the 2007-08 legislative session, interest groups spent $553 million lobbying state government. In many cases, the investment garnered a good return: Successful legislation reaped millions more for special interests than they paid to lobbyists. Use this database to search every interest group that paid lobbyists during the last two years.

Search the Database >

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Groups Adapt '08 Tactics for Lobbying Efforts

IF YOU'RE a Blue Dog Democrat and you voted for the stimulus, there's someone using your name on Google to try to turn your constituents against you.

The conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks is launching a search engine advertising campaign this week targeting all 49 of the fiscally conservative House Democrats, either criticizing or applauding them for how they voted on the stimulus package. The organization is buying spots in Google's "Sponsored Links" column, which appears alongside searches for the lawmakers' names.

Don't be surprised if, in the comfort of your Capitol Hill office, a search for your name turns up no ads. FreedomWorks is using Google AdWords to geographically target ads so they only appear for Web users in the relevant congressional districts. This "geo-targeting," plus the fact that the ads won't necessarily appear for every search, makes it difficult to confirm the extent of the ad buy.

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March 27, 2009

Virtual Charter School Proposed for South San Francisco

A VIRTUAL charter school might be coming to South San Francisco, California if school officials approve the request submitted by Free Word U. Free World U seeks to create a more efficient educational system - Their mission is "to provide free online education to everyone worldwide.

The organization proposes a 25 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio and credentialed teachers would be employed by the proposed school. If the charter is approved by the school board, incoming students would begin enrollment with a test to determine his or her technological proficiency. The outcomes places the student on a technology track for acquiring technical skills needed for assignments. The virtual school would serve children in kindergarten through high school.

In reviewing the World U website, it seems as if the program is based on a flashcards learning system which seeks to break down learning into the smallest possible units. In going through a few of the lessons the interface seems simple and the user can even select music while doing their school work. Lessons for preschoolers include colors, numbers, letters and shapes - and lots more.

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March 26, 2009

Online Reaction to Obama's Online Town Hall

APPROXIMATELY TWO hours after President Obama's online town hall meeting (described below), the public's reaction to the event has been positive. MSN, which carried the stream asked, "Do you think President Obama's online town hall was useful and informative?

  • 48.8 percent said yes. I learned a lot, was impressed with his answers, and hope he does these events regularly so people like me can participate (5,451 votes).
  • 34.6 percent said no. It was completely contrived and all of the questions were softballs. I want the president to get to work, not take silly questions from average Joes (3,879 vaotes)
  • 6.5 percent said somewhat. It was a good first effort, and shows he wants to answer question from everyone, not just the press (726 votes).
  • 2.4 percent said I'm not sure. Was it really all that different from a regular press conference? (272 votes).

President Obama to Hold Online Town Hall on the Economy Today

ON TUESDAY the President invited everyone to use a new feature on called "Open for Questions" to ask a question about the economy and rate other questions up or down. As of March 26th, 91,849 people had submitted 103,255 questions and cast 3,577,508 votes.

Today at 11:30 AM Eastern the the President will conduct a special online town hall on the economy and answer some of the most popular questions and the event will be streamed on

"Open for Questions" is a new experiment for, the President’s latest effort to open up the White House and give Americans from around the country a direct line to the Administration. In a video announcing the experiement, President Obama says, "One of my priorities as President is opening up the White House to the American people so that folks will know what we're up to."

This first round will deal with a chief concern for all of us: the economy. According to the White House Blog, "We’ve created a few categories to better organize the questions, and encourage you to search for a specific question before you submit your own in case it already exists."

"To get started, head over to and set up your account. Then follow the simple instructions to start voting on questions or submit your own (we encourage you to include a link to a published video of the question being asked, although this is not required)."

In annoucning this effort the blog said, "This experiment is about encouraging transparency and accountability, so ask the President exactly what it is you want to know – but let others do the same. It is a community-moderated system, but remember that even though you may not like the viewpoint behind someone’s question, everyone has a right to their opinion. Also remember that Americans of all ages will be participating in this event, so be thoughtful about the words you choose. Participants are asked to follow some basic guidelines for submitting their own questions and flagging other questions as inappropriate.

So be part of history in the making and ask away. The team here at the White House can’t wait to see America’s response!"

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March 25, 2009

CIA Expert Reports Vote Rigging Schemes

THE CIA, which has been monitoring foreign countries' use of electronic voting systems, has reported apparent vote-rigging schemes in Venezuela, Macedonia and Ukraine and a raft of concerns about the machines' vulnerability to tampering.

Appearing last month before a U.S. Election Assistance Commission field hearing in Orlando, Fla., a CIA cybersecurity expert suggested that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies fixed a 2004 election recount, an assertion that could further roil U.S. relations with the Latin leader.

In a presentation that could provide disturbing lessons for the United States, where electronic voting is becoming universal, Steve Stigall summarized what he described as attempts to use computers to undermine democratic elections in developing nations. His remarks have received no news media attention until now.

Stigall told the Election Assistance Commission, a tiny agency that Congress created in 2002 to modernize U.S. voting, that computerized electoral systems can be manipulated at five stages, from altering voter registration lists to posting results.

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Bulgaria Parliament Rejects Electronic Voting

THE MAJORITY in the Bulgarian Parliament rejected Wednesday the idea of introducing electronic voting in 2010.

The idea belongs to the Bulgarian opposition, but one of the currently ruling parties and member of the tri-party coalition - National Movement for Stability and Progress (NMSP) was in favor of the idea. The NMSP votes, however, proved insufficient to carry the electronic voting proposal.

The remaining ruling parties - the Bulgarian Socialists Party (BSP) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) did not buy into the arguments of the right-wing Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) that the electronic voting would increase voters' activity.

The majority did approve the BSP project providing for the introduction of a mixed voting system and the election of 58 Members of the Parliament (MPs) by a majority vote despite their coalition partner's, DPS, objections during the Tuesday debates that this was a Socialists infatuation and 31 majority elected MPs would be more than sufficient.

Another project, receiving approval Wednesday was the reduction of the election campaign to three weeks and the annulment of the so-called "Day for Reflection."

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March 23, 2009

Murky Report Card for White House Transparency

On his first full day as president, Barack Obama promised to usher in “a new era of openness in our government.”

Then last month, the White House asked government workers to submit suggestions for greater openness — through a website inaccessible to the public.

That’s a bit like Obama’s transparency push, eight weeks into his presidency — lots of major promises and some fairly significant actions, mixed in with a few flat-out dodges.

It’s left open-government advocates grateful for what they’re getting from Obama — who is, in their view, miles ahead of the Bush administration — but also left some feeling let down that his often lawyerly actions are falling short of his soaring words.

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Number of PACs Hits All-Time High

ACCORDING TO the Federal Election Commission, the number of federally registered political action committees (PACs) has increased by 9% in the past year to reach an all-time high. The commission reported this month there were 4,611 registered PACs at the beginning of 2009 compared to 4,234 registered PACs at the beginning of 2008. The number of non-connected PACs, or those that are not connected to a corporation or trade organization or affiliated with a candidate or political party, increased the most, up 23% in one year.

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March 22, 2009

The Federal Government is Headed For The Web 2.0 Big Leagues

ACCORDING TO The Sunlight Foundation, "...our federal government is headed for the Web 2.0 big leagues in tracking stimulus dollars." As proof, 26 of 28 federal agencies currently handling stimulus dollars have launched websites at identical "/recovery" URLs (example: and 3,900 hits-per-second loads have been reported for

But the even better news is that this Web 2.0 approach to governance will continue to spread to other agencies within the federal government. Macon Phillips, who runs New Media at the White House is working with the New Organizing Institute to recruit individuals for new media director positions for all federal agencies. Not only will this strategy "open up" the federal government but it will also help the Obama administration build a larger community of supporters. (Other elected officials should take note and think how this strategy could be used in their organization. If you would like some free advice on how this could help your agency or how you could get started using Web 2.0, (or other questions) - send email to All inquiries/questions will be kept totally confidential).

If you are interested in applying for one of these positions or you would like to create such a position in your jurisdiction, there is a basic job description for the positions, although they will vary depending on the agency, listed below. If you are interested, please email your resume and describe your skills and areas of interest (energy, defense, etc.) to and put "Administration" in the subject line.

New Media Director of an Agency

The New Media Director of an Agency of the Executive branch will work closely with the Communications Team within the agency to:

-Coordinate written, video, design, and development content
-Update, maintain, coordinate and develop web site, e-mail, various online social platform outreach, video, and other new media initiatives
-Get copy & messaging communications cleared by appropriate staff, and other departments if applicable
-Direct the schedule, timing and overall strategy of online program
-Liaison with other functional areas of the Department/Agency to better integrate online programming
-Investigate ways in which the agency can use new media tools to broaden and strengthen the agency's reach and presence

The New Media Director will be responsible for:

-All new media communications, including but not limited to content, functionality, scheduling and execution
-Maintaining the agency's agenda and message
-Managing other new media staff
-The overall technical performance, maintenance, and development of websites outreach platforms
-Working closely with the technical team to maintain best practice sites, security, and performance
-Interpreting and reporting various site statistics on a regular basis, and using these results to improve traffic and the effectiveness of the agency's content and outreach efforts

Job Requirements:

-Exceptional communication and organizational skills
-Technical proficiency in day-to-day site administration or design and experience in getting results through vendors or contractors
-Ability to manage multiple people and projects in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment, and superior attention to detail
-Experience with online content and constituent management systems, understanding of online graphics and design, and knowledge of web analytics software and metrics
-Experience with web programming languages and development

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March 21, 2009

Winning Your Next Campaign: New Media Can Help

THE INTERNET and new media give campaigns powerful new tools but most people might not understand how those tools actually work in a real life campaign. Granted, the Obama campaign was unique, but there are lessons that could be applied from that amazing organization to any political campaign from state house to courthouse and the resources listed below might help you apply those lessons to your campaign.

The Clinton campaign's mantra was "It's the economy, stupid." The mantra for the Obama campaign's new media team was "message, money, and mobilization." The Internet's role in the first two - enabling a massively successful online word-of-mouth campaign and record-breaking fundraising totals-are both fairly well documented. Not so the third "M," mobilization.

Read how the Obama campaign's team mobilized a massive army on the ground here. And an earlier article entitled "The New Organizers" is good background also.

For an example of how free public media can support a campaign, watch the "Neighbor to Neighbor" video which allowed supporters to get instruction on how to reach out to neighbors and build support for the Obama campaign.

Also worth reading is "
Obama Raised Half a Billion Online."

And finally, check out the New Organizing Institute. NOI runs the only progressive advocacy and campaign training program focused on cutting-edge online organizing techniques (e.g. writing effective emails, engaging bloggers, leveraging social networks, utilizing video), political technology (e.g. using data effectively, progressive technology infrastructure), and the intersection with field and management of these areas of new organizing.

I hope those resources help you better understand how new media can be used effectively in a campaign. Good luck.

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March 20, 2009

Multiple Tabs: Lawsuits, Indictments and Faulty Equipment Mar Elections

A VOTING machine manufacturer has agreed to pay California $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit claiming it sold unauthorized voting machines to five counties. The company, Election Systems & Software, sold the AutoMark A200 machines to San Francisco, Colusa, Marin, Merced and Solano counties. The company claimed the machines made only minor changes from an earlier, certified model.

In Kentucky, a judge, school superintendent and county clerk have been indicted on charges they extorted money from political candidates so they could bride voters in a scheme to rig several elections. The charges include racketeering, bribery, extortion and voter fraud.

Heather K. Gerken has published "The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System is Failing and How to Fix It." From Amazon - "Gerken has written a compelling and practical plan for improving the conduct of American elections. The Democracy Index offers a politically sophisticated strategy for converting those forces that typically frustrate reform--partisanship and localism--into engines of reform. Given the evident shortcomings in the ways in which citizens register to vote, cast their ballots, and have their choices counted, the subject of this book could not be more important. And Gerken's lively and engaging prose makes it a genuine pleasure to read.

Intelivote Systems Inc. (ISI), which specializes in telephone, wireless and Internet voting, provided their electronic voting technology to members of the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) at a Leadership Convention held recently in Hamilton, Ontario.

Intelivote provided 23,842 voters with the convenience of casting their votes from any location in the world with Intelivote's technology. Advanced voting through two channels, mail-in ballots and Internet voting, was offered to voting members up to two weeks prior to the convention date March 7th. On Convention Day, ONDP members cast their votes using both the Internet and telephones. Members cast ballots from every province in Canada, 13 different US states, and 8 international locations including Australia and Kuwait in advance and on Convention Day.

Diebold subsidiary Premier Election Solutions admitted in a California state hearing on Tuesday that its voting machine software can lose votes and fail to log the fact that the votes were lost.

The admission, reported on Wired's Threat Level blog, is significant. For years, the company has touted the quality of its electronic voting machines amidst mounting criticism that they were prone to errors and tampering.

More than 1.6 million Californians have registered to vote over the past two years, keeping voter registration at a record level. Voter registration numbers have continued to tick upwards even after the historic 2008 presidential election, according to the Secretary of State’s newest “Report of Registration.” The report, issued every odd-numbered year, reflects updates to voter registration rolls including the removal of registrants who have died, moved out of state, or been determined to be ineligible to vote, as well the addition of new registrants.

In all, more than 17.3 million Californians were registered to vote last month, compared to nearly 15.7 million in February 2007. The percentage of people who are eligible to vote and are registered also increased to 74.4 percent, compared to 68.9 percent two years ago.
Here are the percentages of Californians registered by party, as of last month:

-American Independent, 2.17 percent
-Democratic, 44.52 percent
-Green, 0.67 percent
-Libertarian, 0.48 percent

-Peace and Freedom, 0.32 percent
-Republican, 31.14 percent
-Decline to State, 19.99 percent

-All others, 0.70 percent

Of the 58 counties in California, 31 counties have a Republican plurality and 27 have a Democratic plurality of registered voters. Democratic registration increased by 2.0 percentage points while Republican registration dropped by 3.05 percentage points.

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March 19, 2009

Bill Might Reduce Property Tax Scams

THE DEPRESSED housing market is causing a lot of real estate scams and homeowners are getting ripped off. For instance, property owners in California have been receiving official looking letters from private companies that solicit fees of between $89 to $209 to file a "Request for Property Tax Reduction."

The fact is that this same service is free from your local Assessor's office. So why pay when something is free? Good question - but lots of people have taken advantage of the offer. To address this unfortunate situation, California Assembly Member Lieu has introduced AB 992. That bill attempts to tighten up the solicitation part of this rip off by mandating the following language is included on the top of each page of such promotional material - and in 12-point boldface type enclosed in a box formed by a heavy line:


In my opinion this might help solve the problem but I would respectfully suggest taking it another step forward and requiring the name, address, web site and phone number of the local Assessor that could be contacted for questions. This way the taxpayer will have a hassle free way to contact the Assessor for those nagging questions.

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March 17, 2009

The Future of Local Governmental Access Programming on Cable TV

IN GETTING ready for a brainstorming session about the direction of this area's governmental access channel (Channel 26 in my area), PenTV, I have been thinking about the future of cable television and how our channel could reinvent itself. The choices that come to mind are stay the same and become increasingly irrelevant. Or embrace the idea that in the next few years TV will be an open content platform and some amount of programming won't be produced in a traditional way.

If TVs do become open platforms connected to the Internet it opens up programming to the masses and makes independent production possible by the masses. It also provides for an efficient means of delivery of content to the masses. In that environment, TV content will be a mixed bag. Some of it will come from traditional outlets like the major networks and the cable companies but some of it will come from independent producers - you and I.

Diggnation (part of Revision3 Internet Television) is a good example of what I mean. If you haven't seen an episode of the show it is a weekly tech/web culture show that basically features two guys (Kevin RoseAlex Albrecht) sitting on a sofa in Kevin's apartment, laptops in tow, talking about stories from Digg, the social bookmarking website developed by Rose and others. It has a dedicated following and at the recent SXSW event, over three thousand people showed up to watch a live episode.

The important thing here is that all of Revision3's programming could be made available in the new world order on your TV. How does that changed environment relate to PenTV and other public access channels?

Despite the fact that PenTV is a traditional government access franchise authorized by a cable company, it should start now to get itself ready for that future. I am thinking out loud here but some possible changes could include:
  • create a new organizational structure - one that will allow faster change and more programming flexibility;
  • it should encourage local producers to submit content and make it available on the Internet as well as on TV;
  • create ways to provide more interactivity and community building and generally take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd;
  • and finally, since San Mateo County is preparing to hire an egov/gov 2.0 evangelist, and PenTV has done some unique county-centric programming (like Anatomy of Election 08) that has ended up on the Web, working together in a strategic alliance would create a synergistic relationship for the county and for PenTV. It would mean that governmental entities like the county, cities and schools could create and share content.
This is a challenging time for Cable TV and for PenTV. Dealing with the changes that lie ahead will present many new opportunities and no matter how the meeting turns out on Friday, it should be interesting to watch the future unfold.

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March 16, 2009's Failure To Launch

THE MUCH-touted online transparency promised by the Obama administration to allow public tracking of federal stimulus funds might still be months away, as agencies puzzle over the depth of detail required in their weekly reports and Web site architects scramble to design a user-friendly database to handle an ocean of information.

Good-government groups and administration officials envision the Web site as a clearinghouse that lets citizens monitor the dollar-by-dollar effects of economic recovery funds in their hometowns. But with a variety of details in weekly reports from federal agencies, duplicative or hard-to-decipher data sources and reporting requirements that critics say are too shallow to offer meaningful oversight at the local level, the site so far offers little help to watchdogs hoping to map the flow of $787 billion in funds.

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Leftist Declares Victory in El Salvador Election

MAURICIO FUNES, a former TV newsman who was recruited to run for president, declared himself the winner of El Salvador's presidential contest Sunday night, bringing into power a leftist party built by former guerrillas and ending two decades of conservative rule.

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March 14, 2009

El Savador's Presidential Candidate Lifts Ex-Guerrillas

ONE OF the candidates in Sunday's presidential election in El Salvador, who was once a soldier in the Salvadoran army and who now is stomping the campaign trail on behalf of the gurerrilla movement he once battled, said recently, "It is time for a change." (Sound familiar?)

The important election has two leading candidates. Leftist Mauricio Funes, a dapper former TV journalist, is leading polls for the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front as he promises to soften the blow of the world economic crisis on El Salvador's poor yet get on well with ex-foe Washington. The other candidate is Rodrigo Avila, a former national police chief running for the long-ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, ARENA, is close behind in the latest polls.

I had planned to serve as an observer at this important election (in the end, however, work commitments kept me from traveling south). The election held special interest for me because I have visited the country before and have friends there. Plus the fact that the election had such unique characteristics - as I mentioned above, the candidates are interesting and have vastly different points of view and the campaigns have received large amounts of money from outside interests like Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela.

The Los Angeles Times said today, "...for the first time in the nation's history, the left has a real chance of victory. The vote is a test of whether El Salvador has changed significantly in the 17 years since the war ended and can open up beyond the single-party system that has governed it since, or whether the stubborn, locked-in-the-past elements on both the right and left will once again prevail and seal the status quo."

There are over 10,000 observers in the country to make certain this election is honest. And that's in addition to the 90 observers from the European Union, 80 from the Organization of American States and 43 from the Inter American Union of Electoral Organism, which represents 28 countries in the Americas.

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March 13, 2009

Multiple Tabs: Sense Networks Knows Where You Are!

BUSINESS WEEK has a thought provoking article in the March 9 issue that claims that companies may soon know where customers are likely to be every minute of the day. It's worth the read! Also see Sense Networks.

In California, Senator Bob Huff has introduced legislation that would require voters to show proof of identification before voting. See Senate Bill 465.

Delaware has deployed a pretty cool electronic voter registration system. California and other states should take a look.

Minnesota's long-running U.S. Senate election trial is almost over and today Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken will make their closing arguments in the seven-week trial.

Teachers, students and parents will protest today. It's Pink Friday.

I have talked before about how budget cuts could endanger our democracy and now the New York Board of Elections is experiencing just that - significant proposed budget reductions.

The other night I watched a movie called "Swing Vote." Basically the story revolves around a remarkable turn-of-events, the result of the presidential election comes down to one man's vote. Watch a trailer here.

It was 20 years ago today that Tim Berners-Lee authored "Information Management: A Proposal" that set the technology world on fire and gave birth to the World Wide Web.

Yesterday I broke down and bought a Handy Recorder H4 along with a Audix OM3 microphone. Very cool stuff! My Goal? Start producing digital stories using photographs, narrative and music. First project ideas are welcome.

You might want to read Matthew Hindman's book called, "The Myth of Digital Democracy." The author shows how, despite the wealth of independent Web sites, online news audiences are concentrated on the top twenty outlets, and online organizing and fund-raising are dominated by a few powerful interest groups.

Got an iPhone? Like coffee? Check out "Barista" at the Apple iTunes store. For 99 cents you'll get a personal tutor in the art of making brilliant espresso at home - and you will save some money because it normally sells for $2.99.

Governor Schwarzenegger supports the idea of a California Constitutional Convention.

March 12, 2009

Pen, Ink and Paper 2.0: Livescribe is the Future

FOR CHRISTMAS last year, one of my "geek" friends gave me a Livescribe Plus smartpen system. At first I wasn't too excited by the idea of using a really "fat" pen and a special notebook but I soon changed my mind. Eliminating all my colored file folders stuffed with papers that had notes from meetings, phone conversations and "to do" lists made me somewhat more efficient, freed lots of physical space and made the retrieval of notes faster.

Basically the smartpen is an ink pen that lets you record your notes in two ways: it creates digital copies of everything you write by hand and it can record audio at the same time. But the great news is it goes one step further by marrying the two together.

So, here is how I use it.

Let's say that I am sitting in a meeting of department heads but instead of writing down every word in some kind of "Warren"shorthand, I actually sit back and listen to the conversation because it is recorded by the smartpen. At the same time, I jot some notes in the Livescribe notebook.

The smartpen has an infrared camera behind the tip of the pen that captures 72 pictures per second. Using Dot Positioning System technology it remembers what I write or draw on the special paper, which is covered by tiny blue dots arranged in complex patterns. When I am done with a meeting I go back to my office and insert the smartpen in its holder and the notes I took on paper (and recordings) are automatically transferred to my computer on the Livescribe interface.

Once my notes are on the desktop they are automatically archived and become fully searchable.

The system has a calculator, translator and a paper piano that plays a mini piano you draw on paper. For the more serious user, Livescribe has an online service that lets you upload recordings and notes to the "cloud" plus you can share or even post content to Facebook (I have not tried this). The handwriting recognition software is solid and I can print or use cursive (my hand writing stinks) and the system performs as advertised.

All of these benefits, like most things, comes with a price tag. The initial system is $149 and extra notebooks are around $8.

So, after a few months of using the Livescribe system, I can tell you it is easy to setup, easy to use and that "fat" pen is actually balanced and even displays the time which can be used for those ackward moments in meetings when you are really bored and don't want to offend anyone by looking at your watch - just look down at your Pulse smartpen and get the time.

Learn More Here >

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March 11, 2009

Hurdles to Voting Persisted in 2008

FOUR TO five million voters did not cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election because they encountered registration problems or failed to receive absentee ballots, which is about the same number of voters who encountered such problems at the 2000 elections, according to an academic study to be presented to the Senate Rules Committee today.

An additional two to four million registered voters were "discouraged" from voting due to administrative hassles, like long lines and voter identification requirements.

The study, which draws from a survey of about 33,000 eligible voters, was conducted in October and November 2008 by the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, a consortium of more than 150 university researchers, led by MIT, who specialize in voting issues.

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March 10, 2009

Gov 2.0 Summit: The Platform for Change

The Obama administration signals a sea change in the way our government will use technology for our greater good, as well as the way citizens will contribute to running our nation. The Web 2.0 principles of user engagement, rapid development, and real-time intelligence that guided President Obama during his campaign are the same principles that will shape the future of our political operating system.

But the task of reinventing government is too important to be left solely to the government. Gov 2.0 Summit, a new government technology conference co-produced by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb, capitalizes on the momentum for change and broad engagement, creating a non-partisan forum for addressing the monumental challenges our nation faces. Gov 2.0 Summit is a place for technologists to rise to the call of public service, offering up their internet expertise to its best and highest purpose.

Gov 2.0 Summit will bring together policy-makers, elected officials, upper management in city, state, and federal agencies, technology leadership in all levels of government, private-sector internet business leaders, contractors, and consultants to establish high-level thought leadership across the spectrum of stake-holders.

The event will frame the important questions before us with the participation of government, industry, non-profits, and academia:

How can we use technology to make government more transparent and accountable? How do we bridge the culture of Silicon Valley with the culture of Washington? How can we reinvent the contracting ecosystem, enabling a new model of public-private partnerships for the benefit of both sides?

Gov 2.0 Summit will feature best practices and case studies to highlight the work of those who are already using new technology in government, as well as projects outside the Beltway that demonstrate how tasks can be accomplished more effectively and cheaply.

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March 9, 2009

Geek Hiring Binge

MEMBERS OF of Congress have finally embraced the Web, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube, and they are hiring new-media experts to help extend their reach.

The trend reflects many lawmakers' growing awareness of the Internet's importance to campaigns and of their constituents' increasing desire to connect and gather information on the Web. Further driving the change are an influx of Capitol Hill freshmen familiar with the new tools, and fresh rules that allow members to post on third-party websites.

"The level of member interest in new media has never been higher," said Matt Lira, director of new media for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Lira describes his job as making sure that "the whip operations integrate new media with everything we do as much as possible." He notes that one of the defining characteristics of Barack Obama's presidential campaign was that he integrated the electronic tools at the senior decision-making level. Lira sits in senior staff meetings so he can strategize ways to incorporate new media on a daily basis.

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March 5, 2009

New Communication Tools Are Needed as Traditional Media Declines

ONE OF the things that I have found to be true in our business is that the traditional means of sharing messages with the public is becoming more difficult. Press releases often don't get picked up by newspapers. The number of reporters covering the "city hall beat" has shrunk to almost nothing and many newspapers are struggling to keep the doors open. In this new era, government needs to be smarter about message delivery. It needs to find new ways to deliver information to the public.

We have experimented with new tools for information sharing. Maybe our first steps can be a guide for you to start thinking about new communication methods? Our tools and how we try to use them are briefly discussed below.

We use Twitter, a micro blogging tool to get out quick messages. Since Twitter limits the number of characters for a post to 140 characters, you must be brief.
But you can provide readers with a link to the "bigger story." Specifically, it helps us share deadlines, talk about work in progress and we often use it to cover important state and national election news.

We have two blogs. One is called Inside Elections and the other is this blog. On the elections blog we publish articles about our processes, procedures and practices - what's going on behind the scenes on a d
ay to day basis. Hopefully, sharing that kind of election information with the public can help strengthen voter confidence and at the same time increase transparency. This blog tries to offer ideas and stories that will spark the imagination of pubic sector leaders and lead to new approaches that can help solve old problems.

Our two web sites (here and here) not only have static information but they have interactive tools that help constituents transact business with our offices. On your web site be sure to provide visitors with RSS feeds which is basically a "subscription and clipping service" and don't forget to talk with your technology folks about designing content for mobile devices like the iPhone and Blackberry - and cell phones generally.

Our MySpace site contains information on our Student Poll Worker program. Our idea was to facilitate a conversation between the high school students that had a common interest in serving at the polls on Election Day. And finally, our YouTube space has instructional videos on election subjects.

Another project we tried was broadcasting our own show on cable TV. You can see some of that effort here.

In addition to sharing our messages with the tools listed above, we still send out press releases. We also go into the community and talk to real people on important topics and we invite the public in to our off
ices to view our processes and get acquainted with how their government works.

A planned future project is to develop an email distribution list. This will be used to communicate tailored messages to smaller, niche groups like specific homeowner groups or people interested in election audits, for instance.

In this new world, it is important to keep up with new ideas!

In this new world, it is important to keep up with new ideas! To accomplish that goal we attend seminars on civic engagement and new tools; members of our staff attend conferences and trade shows. We also tread about new concepts. Our current recommendations include Crowd Sourcing by Jeff Howe and The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. Each of those works talk about the power of involving people in the conversation. (A good example of how one public sector agency is taking advantage of this concept is discussed here).

And speaking of crowds, one thing that we tried is a "focus group." A focus group is nothing more than a group of people brought together to discuss a particular idea, product policy or whatever? Ask the group what works and what doesn't work - what they would like to see and how they would use it. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Traditional media outlets may not be serving your communication interests in the best way possible. And at the same time people want to interact with government in new and different ways. Government agencies need to reach out and try new communication tools and evaluate which of the new tools works and which should be disc
arded. It is an ongoing, evolutionary process and one size does not fit all.

Good luck on your journey!

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Propositon 8 Oral Arguments To Be Live Streamed

THE CALIFORNIA Channel, created by the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) in 1991, will provide gavel-to-gavel live coverage of the three-hour oral argument before the California Supreme Court on the validity of controversial Proposition 8, a constitutional ballot initiative approved by California voters in November 2008 that banned "gay marriage" in the state.

Live coverage begins at 9 AM on The California Channel and extends to noon on March 5th. The hearing will also be streamed live on www.calcha And that site will archive the proceedings in case you can't make it at 9 AM.

Background to Legal Arguments: On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court struck down a state statute banning gay marriage, ruling that the ban violated the equal protection clause of the California State Constitution. On November 4, 2008, California voters voted to override that decision and amend the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Opponents to Prop. 8 argue that it illegally "revises" the state constitution and should be reversed. California's ballot initiative process, created in 1911, allows ballot initiatives to "amend" the California Constitution, but it prohibits "revisions" to the Constitution through the initiative process. Opponents of Prop. 8 argue that the measure represents an impermissible “revision” to the state constitution because it deprives a certain class of citizens of a fundamental civil right, the right to marry.

The distinction between a constitutional "amendment" and a "revision" under California law has not yet been fully articulated by the California Supreme Court. Supporters of Prop. 8 argue the measure merely amends the state constitution, and that a ban on gay marriage is not a revision because it does not fundamentally restructure the balance of state governmental powers.

Attorney General Jerry Brown goes farther, arguing, on behalf of the state that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional because it seeks to repeal an inalienable civil right. Under this theory, presumably even the people could not approve a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the legislature that deprives people of fundamental civil liberties.

At stake in this landmark proceeding are important issues involving the constitutionality of a ban on gay marriage, the distinction between constitutional "amendments" and "revisions" under California's ballot initiative law, the extent of the power of the people to change the state constitution, and, if Prop. 8 is upheld, the validity of gay marriages performed after May 15, 2008 and before November 4, 2008.

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March 4, 2009

California Assemblyman Wants Online Images of Certain Buildings Blurred

HIS OFFICIAL website says, "Joel Anderson stands up for our borders." Evidently one of the ways he proposes to do that is to have companies like Google blur images of schools, churches, government and medical buildings on applications like Google Earth in order to protect Californians against possible terrorist attacks.

A Republican from San Diego's 77th Assembly District, Mr. Anderson has introduced AB 255 which requires a fine of not less than $250,000 for each day an operator of a commercial Internet Web site or online service that utilizes a virtual globe browser, who makes aerial or satellite photographs or imagery of
selected images available to members of the public. Additionally, "an operator who is an executive officer or member of a board of directors who knowingly violates these provisions would also be subject to imprisonment in the state prison for one, 2, or 3 years.

Unfortunately, in checking Mr. Anderson's website for additional details on his proposed legislation, the site is absent such information. In fact, when you click on the site's "My Legislation link," the browser returns a message that says, "There are no data records to display." The "In The News Section" produces the same result. And I never did find anything about the bill.

According to the New York Times, the right to publish images taken in public places has generally been protected by American courts. And of course, many of the images that Mr. Anderson is seeking to protect are available elsewhere (government Internet sites, for instance).

Elsewhere, the Indian courts are considering a similar ban following reports that aerial imagery played a part in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

In thinking about all of this, security expert Bruce Schneier has questioned what else might be banned saying that terrorists have used boats and bottled water.

But seriously, what about the government's use of aerial imagery and the fact that some governmental Geographic Information Systems make these images available on the Internet? In the interests of fair play, shouldn't Assemblyman Anderson's bill ban public sector aerial images as well?

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March 3, 2009

SOS Report Says Diebold Has Button For Erasing Audit Logs

QUICK NOTE - Kim Zetter keeps sharing good stuff over at Threat Level - her blog entry today is on the fact that the Diebold Voting System has a delete button for erasing audit logs. She says, "...But the most starling information in the state's 13-page report (.pdf_) is not about why the system lost votes, which Threat Level previously covered in detail, but that some versions of Diebold's (now Premier Election Solutions) vote tabulation system, known as the Global Election Management System (GEMS), includes a button that allows someone to delete audit logs from the system."

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German High Court Bans E-Voting System

GERMANY'S HIGHEST court just ruled that the use of voting machines in the country's last election was unconstitutional, a verdict that likely will mean no machines will be used when Germans vote this September.

The Federal Constitutional Court upheld two complaints about the use of the machines in 2005. It found they violated provisions requiring that voters be able to assure themselves — without specific technical knowledge — that their vote was recorded correctly.
However, it upheld the result of the 2005 election, saying there was no evidence that the machines malfunctioned or were manipulated.

The use of electronic voting was challenged by a father-and-son team. Political scientist Joachim Wiesner and son, physicist Ulrich Wiesner complained that push button voting was not transparent because the voter could not see what actually happened to his vote inside the computer and was required to place "blind faith" in the technology.

In addition, the two plaintiffs argued that the results were open to manipulation.

Germany first introduced electronic voting in European elections in 1999 and first used it in parliamentary ballots in 2002, but 2005 saw the first large-scale deployment of the technology.

German hacker-cum-data-protection group
Chaos Computer Club has been spearheading a campaign with the Dutch foundation Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet (We don't trust voting computers) to stop the further spread of electronic voting because of fears about the risk of electronic errors and the potential for abuse.

In 2008, the Dutch government decertified the use of existing paperless systems and rejected a proposal to develop a new generation of voting computers. Computerized voting machines were used in five of Germany's 16 states in the last election, and some 2 million of the country's nearly 61.9 million eligible voters could vote only by machine.

Judge Andreas Vosskuhle stressed that the court was not banning machines for good, but said the machines used so far did not meet its standards. Germany's next national parliamentary election will be held on Sept. 27 this year. Interior Ministry official Hans-Heinrich von Knobloch said that officials would work to satisfy the court's requirements, but he did not expect it would be possible to use machines in this year's election.

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