March 31, 2010

Coalition Seeks Stronger Privacy Laws

A BROAD coalition of technology companies and advocacy groups plan to push Congress to strengthen online privacy laws to protect private digital information from government access.

The group, Digital Due Process, said it wanted to ensure that as millions of people moved private documents from their filing cabinets and personal computers to the Web, those documents remained protected from easy access by law enforcement and other government authorities. The group also wants to safeguard location-based information collected by cellphone companies and application providers.

Creating Great Citizen Engagement Software

THE OPEN Forum Foundation is sponsoring a workshop, "Creating Great Citizen Engagement Software" in Washington, DC on April 7-8. You might consider attending if you are a developer of citizen engagement software that focuses on the United States Congress, including:
  • Constituent Management Systems for Congressional offices
  • Constituent Relations Management software for advocacy groups
  • Community organization tools to enable political action
  • Politically-oriented communication platforms intended to connect citizens, advocacy groups and representatives, or any subset of those three.
> Learn more here

March 27, 2010

Student-Led Innovation in Killer Apps for Broadband Networks

THE WHITE House Office of Science and Technology Policy has proposed a new initiative to spur student innovation to develop "killer apps" for broadband networks. The initiative would involve companies, universities and would take advantage of high-capacity networks such as Internet2 and National LambdaRail.

Web 2.0 Expo: The Power of Platforms

WEB 2.0 Expo comes to San Francisco May 3-6, 2010. Early Registration ends Monday, March 29th. The event will have 75+ sessions, workshops and intensives for designers, developers, entrepreneurs, marketers, business strategists, and investors, covering 10 topic areas:

  1. Business model strategies
  2. Design & UX best practices
  3. Social media success
  4. Cutting edge development
  5. The mobile tsunami
  6. Performance challenges
  7. Practical analytics
  8. Real-time opportunities
  9. Enterprise tools
  10. Creating community
> Learn more here

March 26, 2010

First-Ever National Study of Computer Usage in Libraries

NEARLY ONE -third of American age 14 or older - roughly 77 million people-used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet in the past year, according to a report released by the University of Washington Information School. The study's data shows that:
  • 40 percent of library computer users received help with career needs
  • 37 percent focused on health issues
  • 42 percent received help with educational needs
  • 60 percent used the library's computers to connect with others

March 24, 2010

Connecting America

ACCORDING TO the experts, broadband services for all Americans is the "infrastructure challenge of the 21st century." On March 16th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its 376 page "Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan," setting forth a strategy to do just that.

In the report the FCC clearly sees the connection between Internet access as a vehicle for meaningful engagement with government and the host of other opportunities it provides to increase civic participation. The introduction to the chapter on civic engagement states, "Civic engagement is the lifeblood of any democracy and the bedrock of its legitimacy. Broadband holds the potential to strengthen our democracy by dramatically increasing the public's access to information and by providing new tools for Americans to engage with this information, their government and one another."

The report contains five civic engagement recommendations that include:

1. Create an open and transparent government'

2. Improve access to media and journalism, including increased funding to public media for broadband

3. Use social media to increase civic engagement

4. Increase innovation in government

5. Modernize the democratic process through such means as online voter registration.

The broadband plan also recommends modernizing the election process.

One of the simplest ways to participate in our democracy is through the ballot box. "By bringing the elections process into the digital age, government can increase efficiency, promote greater civic participation and extend the ability to vote to more Americans." The group recommends modernizing the voter registration process with an electronic process, portability of voting records and automatic updates of voter files with the most current address information available.

March 23, 2010

Entire City is Innovation Incubator

MANOR LABS is a citizen collaboration platform that the city deployed for citizens to submit technology ideas for the city and rate the ideas of others. Manor then chooses some of the proposals for implementation. The twist is the city has an incentive for fueling activity on the platform. Every time someone submits an idea, comments another's idea, or votes on an idea, that person wins "Innobucks points." The various citizen activities within Manor Labs are worth different amounts of Innobucks, which can be turned in for tangible prizes. For example, one million Innobucks points wins "mayor for the day" status, while 400,000 points can be traded for a ride-along with the police chief.

"We wanted to demonstrate to other cities how to build a sustainable innovation platform. You have to make it fun. You have to make it a game," Haisler said.

Manor Labs operates somewhat like a stock exchange. Once an idea attracts enough comments, it reaches a level at which city officials evaluate whether or not they will implement that idea. During this time, users can invest their Innobucks in the ideas awaiting their fates. If a proposal is approved, all Innobucks invested in it double. Someone who invests in a rejected project loses all of the Innobucks he or she invested in that project. The approach has resulted in five different Web tools being implemented by Manor

Should the FPPC Regulate Tweeters, Facebookers?

IN THE Age of the Internet, when campaigns, advocates, consultants and engaged citizens are using all forms of social media - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail Buzz, etc. - to communicate about politics, the California Fair Political Practices Commission is struggling to figure out what in all that constitutes political communication that ought to be regulated - like paid advertising - and what is purely a function of free speech.

March 22, 2010

Building Britain's Digital Future

LAME DUCK Gordon Brown, the UK's curmudgeonly prime minister, has outlined his own plans for a digital Britain.

In a speech that could have been written by a donkey with the barest knowledge of the UK's broadband system, he suggested that this required provisioning "superfast" broadband to every home in the country. We would have started with providing a decent merely half-fast service to those who currently don't get it, but no one asked us.

>And more from the official site of the Prime Minister's office

Unlocking Government: How Data Transforms Democracy

FOUR BENEFITS of embracing openness in government:

1. Better inform the public
2. Enhance accountability
3. Strengthen communities
4. Facilitate markets

The Real Cost of Voter Registration

OREGON SPENT more than $8.8 million – or $4.11 per active registered voter–on its voter registration system during the 2008 election according to a new report released today by The Pew Center on the States. Conducted with the assistance of Oregon state and local election officials, "The Real Cost of Voter Registration" is the first comprehensive analysis of its kind and provides a model for other states to estimate their expenses and establish a basis for evaluating efforts to modernize.

"States need to analyze their current voter registration costs before they can determine effective ways to modernize the process," said John Lindback, senior officer for Election Initiatives at the Pew Center on the States and former Oregon state election director. "Oregon's critical contribution to this study provides guidance for analyzing expenses and shows the need for a more cost-effective system. A good starting point is to use 21st –century technology that will not only make registration less expensive, but also more efficient and accurate."

Innovative, cost-saving steps toward modernization have already been implemented by some states. For example, Delaware reduced its labor costs by $200,000 annually with its eSignature practice that requires every visitor to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to register to vote, update their record or decline to do so and then electronically syncs the data with the state election office. In Phoenix, Arizona, an online registration costs an average of 3 cents to process versus at least 83 cents for a paper registration form.

By comparison, Canada’s system points to the potential for significantly greater savings via a list of eligible voters created in part from government data sources. The Canadian system costs taxpayers about $5 million (CAD) annually or about 26 cents (USD) per registered voter compared to $4.11 in Oregon.

"Determining the exact cost of registering voters has been a real challenge," said Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, "because we found overlapping responsibilities at the state and local level. We've been pleased to work with Pew because this study gives us our first thorough look at the process and will certainly help other states evaluate their own registration procedures and costs. We already have improvements on the way, with our online voter registration system coming in March. We won’t stop seeking opportunities to modernize our system in ways that reduce costs and better serve Oregon voters."

Pew worked with Oregon state election officials and 36 county clerks to isolate their voter registration expenses from other costs related to conducting elections for 2008. The study’s key findings include:

• Oregon's voter registration system cost state and local governments more than $8.8 million;
• The cost per active registered voter (individuals who have either voted or updated their
registration during the past five years) was $4.11;
• New registrations combined with updates resulted in 1,152,761
transactions and the cost per transaction was $7.67; and
• The cost per active voter in the seven largest counties ($2.55) was less than that in the
remaining 29 counties ($4.03), indicating economies of scale.

Variations in both state laws and the division of responsibilities between state and local election officials make it difficult to assess voter registration costs nationwide. Two landmark pieces of federal legislation–the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002–also shifted some responsibilities for voter registration from local jurisdictions to states. Additionally, HAVA’s requirement that each state maintain a statewide voter registration list resulted in the re-allocation of costs between multiple levels of government.

The Pew Center on the States aims to improve the nation’s outdated voter registration process by examining options for building a system that is more efficient and accurate, while reducing costs and administrative burdens. Pew continues to gather data, analyze research and work with election officials to diagnose performance issues in the current system and propose fact-based, practical solutions to guide the modernization process.

For more information on Pew's election initiatives and to download "The Real Cost of Voter Registration," visit

March 20, 2010

Government Webpage for Every Citizen

ON MONDAY, Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will announce plans that he claims could save billions of "pounds" over four years by making dealing with the state as easy as internet banking or shopping on Amazon. Within a year, everybody in the country should have a personalized website through which they would be able to find out about local services and do business with the government. A unique identifier would allow citizens to apply for a place for their child at school, book a doctor's appointment, claim for benefits or pay taxes from their computer at home.

So now imagine an "iTunes" like site that is customizable for each citizen. Rather than choices like Music, Movies, TV Shows, App Store, Audiobooks and iTunes U, the personalized citizen site would have sections like Politics, Government, Schools, Taxes, Voting and Health Care, for instance.

If this could happen in Britain, could this type of innovation take place in the U.S.?

Anyone out their thinking about this?

The Next Age of Government

BRITAIN'S CONSERVATIVE Party leader, David Cameron and according to the Daily Mail - a "prime minister in waiting," believes that we are entering a time where ordinary citizens are increasingly empowered by new technologies while government's power is decreasing. He says in his TED talk that, "If we combine the right political thinking with the incredible information revolution that's taken place...there's an incredible opportunity to actually remake politics, remake government, remake public services and achieve...a big increase in our well being."

Watch the 15 minute video of his presentation below.

The Case for Saturday School

KIDS IN China already attend school 41 days a year more than students in the United States. Now, schools across the country are cutting back to four-day weeks. Chester E. Flinn Jr. writes in the Wall Street Journal on how to build a smarter education system.

Reinventing How We Vote

LIKE MANY startups that aim to do something big, Open Source Digital Voting Foundation in Palo Alto began with an "Aha!"

The epiphany belonged to Gregory Miller, 50, a technology marketing executive who earned a law degree in intellectual property and is now Digital Voting's chief development officer.

"Back in November 2006 I was entrepreneur-in-residence at a local venture-capital firm. The week of the election I happened to have a conversation with one of the partners about what we called 'malformed' markets, and we naturally turned to a discussion of the voting-systems industry, which was failing on all fronts at the time -- bad products, dysfunctional business models, the works," Miller said.

"It's a lousy business if you want to make money for your investors and do a good job for voters."

More Politicians Using Social Media

Not long after her April 2008 election to the Amherst School Committee, Catherine A. Sanderson thought she’d create a simple, little blog to keep voters informed about what the committee was doing and to gain voter feed back.

“Those were my noble goals,” she said of the origin of her blog,

In a matter of months, her simple, little blog grew and grew to the point of becoming neither simple nor little.

Her two to three posts per month grew to as many as 20, the monthly visitors tally reached as high as 10,000, and individual posts could generate as many as 150 reader comments.

It's become a lot of work, but Sanderson said the blog has more than accomplished its original purpose. “I ran on a platform of more communication and more transparency,” Sanderson said. “It’s hard to not communicate and not be transparent when you’re on a blog telling people, ‘Here is how I am going to vote and why.’”

Sanderson is one of many politicians at the local, state and federal levels who are realizing the importance of using new media to connect with the voters.

Electronic Signatures Might Come to Utah

UTAH COULD face its first test of electronic signatures in the democratic process with e-candidate Farley Anderson's run for governor.

Earlier this month, the unaffiliated Anderson said he intended to collect his 1,000 required signatures electronically. Whether the Lieutenant Governor's Office accepts them is still in question. But it will have to be answered Friday, the legal deadline for candidate filings.

When Anderson announced his unique candidacy, state Elections Office administrator Mark Thomas said the current system is paper-based, but the law can be interpreted liberally to give candidates the most ballot access.

However, county clerks received an e-mail this week from Thomas, advising them that handwritten signatures are required and electronic signatures do not qualify.

> Read More

March 19, 2010

THE HEADER on Josh Becker's website says, "Josh Becker The Innovation Democrat" and judging by his background (in 2005 he was named as one of the Top 40/under 40 people to watch in Silicon Valley by the Silicon Valley Business Journal) and his use of a new smart phone application called Square, I would agree.

Square made its debut at the end of 2009 as an easy way to let people quickly accept physical credit card payments from their mobile phone. According to TechCrunch, the application has been in limited beta since then and their website claims that a flower cart in San Francisco is using Square to take payments from customers. Also using the service is a glass factory in St. Louis, a jeans store in NYC plus a coffee bar in SF. There are no contracts, monthly fees or hidden costs with Square. To use the device you just swipe the credit card from any device with an audio input jack - and as a payer, your receipt gets sent to your email or mobile phone instantly. (Another can use a text message to authorize every payment in real-time).

Two campaigns have picked up on the idea and are now using it for political fundraising. Silicon Valley VC, Josh Becker, who is running for state assembly in California's 21 district, has been using Square at fundraising events - and a congressional candidate running in New York's 14th district uses it also.

Here is a video of how Square works in action.

Why Do We Vote on Tuesdays?

ALEX TOURK is asking one of those why-didn't-I-think-of-that questions. Why, he asks, are elections held on Tuesday? Wouldn't Saturday or Sunday be better?

"It just makes sense to me,'' said Tourk, the former deputy chief of staff at the mayor's office who now runs his own public relations firm. "I hope to inspire San Franciscans to say, 'I never really thought about that. Why do we vote on Tuesday?'''

Tourk is promoting an idea to schedule a San Francisco election on a Saturday (see the Why Tuesdays SF website). He's currently collecting signatures to get the idea on the November ballot with the hope that an upcoming election will have two election days — one on Saturday and then one on Tuesday as usual.

Just a warning. If your first thought to the idea is, "Oh c'mon, what difference would that make?" don't say that to Tourk. He's got the numbers, he's got the history, and he has a passionate belief that this could actually make a big difference.

"Among the 179 developed countries in the world the United States ranks 132nd in turnout among eligible votes,'' he said. "Over the last 10 years in San Francisco — one of the most liberal, politically active cities in the country — the average turnout among eligible voters was 47.2 percent.''

What's more, he said, when eligible voters were asked in a survey why they didn't vote in 2008, Tourk says the main reason was "scheduling conflicts.''

> Read More

Internet Election Coming to Retirement Association

THE SAN Mateo County Employees Retirement is planning to allow members to vote on the Internet for their next trustee election to be held in June 2010. All of their previous elections have been on a paper ballot. The hope is that an Internet election will increase participation, which has been about 20% of eligible voters for recent elections.

After substantial research, SamCERA has concluded "that an Internet election will be not only secure, but probably more secure than paper ballot elections. It will also be green (less paper and less gas burning delivery involved), and more convenient for voters."

Everyone Counts is the software provider and the San Mateo County Elections office will actually conduct the election.

> Read More about Everyone Counts

Democracy Online: Can the Internet Bring Change?

LAST SUMMER a chilling 40-second video clip, recorded on a cell phone, went viral and caught the attention of the world. It captured the haunting image of a 26-year old music student, Neda Soltan, who was shot and killed in the streets of Tehran while protesting the Iranian presidential election.

Some experts look at this incident and others where new technology is being used by opponents of repressive regimes and have come to the conclusion that online free expression has the potential to bring about great democratic changes. Others are less optimistic, noting that governments are manipulating Internet activists and that, in any case, all the activity amounts to little more than taking offline techniques and moving them online.

So is the Internet stoking democratic change or is its impact hyped? Are repressive regimes conditioning people not to expect free expression on the Internet? Is online organizing little more than a game of Whac-a-Mole with one form of repression being replaced by another? What are the implications for political organizing of the recent discovery that the email accounts of dozens of Chinese human rights advocates appear to have been hacked? Join Google and Freedom House to answer this question and many more.

Please submit and vote on these and other questions for the panel at Google Moderator (

Is Paper Required? One Side Says Yes and the Other Says No

A SAN Mateo County judge tentatively ruled Thursday that an electronic signature submitted to the county elections office cannot be used to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

In his written decision released prior to a court hearing Thursday, Superior Court Judge George Miram ruled against Michael Ni, whose lawsuit sought to force the county clerk to accept a USB drive containing an "e-signature" that he submitted to qualify a statewide ballot measure for legalizing and taxing marijuana.

Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Warren Slocum rejected Ni's signature, captured by an iPhone and software developed by Verafirma, a startup company Ni co-founded. Slocum said a court must determine whether the signature is legal.

Miram denied Ni's request for a writ of mandate to order Slocum to accept the signature, handing an initial victory to the county and the California Secretary of State's Office, which contend electronic signatures are not allowed under the current elections code.

"The digital image of a purportedly completed initiative petition stored on a USB flash drive does not constitute a petition or paper for purposes of determining what the elections office must process," Miram wrote in his tentative ruling.

Still, Miram said during the hourlong hearing Thursday that he wants to think more about the case before issuing a final ruling within 90 days.

> Read More

March 18, 2010

Open Government West Conference

THE GREATER Northwest has lots of innovative technology and civic engagement organizations, and a number of governments throughout the region have launched open government directives. Hosted by the City of Seattle, Open Gov West is bringing these leaders together to facilitate regional collaboration and share best practices across open government initiatives.

Divided into two distinct days with separate formats and content, the conference will offer praticipants both a work summit on best practices and standards for regional governments and an unconference exploring new ideas, technology and practices in open government.

The cost is $85.00. To register go

March 17, 2010

Tentative Ruling in Ni v. Slocum Issued By Superior Court

IN THE case of Ni v. Slocum the Petitioner delivered to the Elections Office for the County of San Mateo a “thumb drive”. On the thumb drive was a “four-page” digital image of an initiative petition. The image bears Petitioner Michael Ni’s cursive name and printed-script name in two separate locations. In my capacity as Chief Elections Officer, I informed the Secretary of State that the digital image of the initiative petition could not be processed due to certain Election Code requirements including the requirement that each petitioner signer shall personally affix [h]is or her” signature, printed name, residence address and city of residence” to the petition.

Petitioner requested the San Mateo County Superior Court to order me to accept the digital signature.

The hearing on petitioner’s request is set for March 18th. Today, the Honorable George Miram, based upon his review of the pleadings and documents filed on this matter, issued his tentative ruling denying petitioner’s request to order me to count the digital signature. In doing so, the Court stated: “The digital image of a purportedly completed initiative petition stored on a USB flash drive does not constitute a petition or paper for purposes of determining what the Elections Office must process.” Counsel for petitioner, Michael Ni, counsel for Warren Slocum, respondent, as well as counsel for amicus, the Secretary of State’s office, will present oral arguments to Judge Miram at the hearing tomorrow.

Work Time Is Anytime: Even In the Government

WHEN YOU think of cutting edge, 21st-century workplaces, chances are a county government bureaucracy does not come to mind. But the Human Services and Public Health Department of Hennepin County, in Minneapolis, Minn., is engaged in about as radical an experiment with flexible work as exists.

One morning late last year, the lobby was packed with people applying for food, housing and other public assistance. But down a hall, in a grayish-beige cubicle farm, it feels like a ghost office.

"Here's another one, empty," says supervisor Ann Zager as she guides me among vacant chairs and black computer terminals. Her staff of 13 determines eligibility for assistance, and half of them are not here.

> Read More

March 16, 2010

10 Flaws With The Data on

TRANSPARENCY SHOULD be a three-legged stool of awareness, access and accuracy., the government's data Web portal whose purpose is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, is focusing on the second leg of the stool: access. of the three, accuracy, which is part of data quality, is the most difficult to achieve but also the most important. If government data is untrustworthy, the government defaults on its backstop role in society.

So, can you trust the data provided on A cursory examination of the newly released high-value datasets revealed 10 types of quality deficiencies.

> Read the 10 deficiencies here.

March 15, 2010

Pick An Avatar And Join The March

AS OF this morning, 183,428 AMERICANS have joined the revolt and signed up to "March for America" on April 15th. Unlike the "Million Man March" and other protest marches, this march will take place online.

The first-ever Online Tax Revolt, a free, interactive march on Washington and is open " every American who believes taxes and spending are out of control, harmful to our country and a threat to our nation's future." "We're in serious trouble and it falls to us to get the nation back on track. This march is a wake-up call to everyone in Washington that the American people won't be ignored any longer," said Campaign Chairman Ken Hoagland.

Marchers simply log on to, choose an avatar and have it march to the nation's capital. Participants can march individually or in teams. One cool feature of the Online Tax Revolt March is the map of America which shows the locations of all of the individual avatars that have signed up to march.

March 14, 2010

Time To Celebrate Sunshine Week

MARCH 14-20 is "Sunshine Week." It's a time when the media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofit organizations and others spotlight the importance of open government, open records and freedom of information. The initiative was originally spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors.

The goals of Sunshine Week are to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels and to let people know they have access to information that can make their lives better and their communities stronger. Another goal of Sunshine Week is to make the public aware that, from time to time, there is legislation offered to try to stymie open government. In fact, Sunshine Week was first started in Florida in 2002 during a time when Florida lawmakers tried to create new exemptions to the state's public records laws. Because Sunshine Week raised the public's awareness about the lawmakers' intent, it is estimated 300 exemptions to Florida's strong Sunshine Law were defeated.

>Visit the official Sunshine Week site.

March 13, 2010

Dirty Rotten Strategies

TODAY ON C-SPAN, I had the chance to watch a program that was taped at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. It featured Ian Mitroff who has co-authored a book entitled, "Dirty Rotten Strategies." Basically the author criticizes all institutions for either solving the wrong problem unintentionally, or worse, intentionally tackling the right problem in the wrong way. He claims government is particularly prone to doing both.

The speech lasted about an hour, including questions. In the talk Mitroff described the complexity, and interconnectedness of problems, and how people's underlying assumptions are influenced by society ranging from the education system to the churches to government and business. Through a culture of seeking unreality, people have developed biases that cause the wrong questions to be asked, resulting in the wrong problems being given precise solutions.

His comments on Toyota's current crises are insightful and worth listening to - if you have the spare time.

If you missed the show, you can watch it here.

Or, if you prefer, you can purchase Ian Mitroff's book here.

March 12, 2010

Pen And Paper Signatures v. Electronic Signatures

JOE MATHEWS, a journalist and Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation, has written on the electronic signature issue before. But now he has written an article in "Fox and Hounds Daily" on the lawsuit that has been filed over that lone electronic signature filed on a state initiative petition in San Mateo County.

The journalist writes, "Guess what? Electronic signatures aren't new to California politics. In most counties of this state, records of voter registration are kept in electronic form. So when the clerk's office checks to see if your pen-paper signature on an initiative petition matches the signature they have on file, the signature they're comparing it with is an electronic one."

"I learned more about this through reading the fascinating court filings in the case of Ni v. Slocum, a new lawsuit that asks a superior court judge in San Mateo County to find that an electric signature on the marijuana initiative - Michael Ni signed it electronically with the touch screen of his iPhone - is valid and should be counted. The county's chief elections officer, Warren Slocum, ruled the signature invalid."

Mr. Mathews goes on to say that "San Mateo County, Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Attorney General Jerry Brown are all on the same page. And that page is made of paper."

While that may be true in his eyes, it is absolutely true that the three parties are bound by what California law says and how those provisions have been interpreted by the courts and by election officials. In his article, Mr. Mathews does get this right, "If Ni wins and his signature is approved, this could be a very significant decision, making it much easier and cheaper to collect signatures on everything from voter registration to ballot initiative petitions."

> Read the Joe Mathews article here.

March 11, 2010

15 Groups Spent $1 Billion To Sway State Policy

The California Teachers Association spent $211.8 million over the past decade to influence state voters and legislators. In all, 15 groups - two labor unions, six corporations, three Indian tribes and four business associations - spent more than $1 billion over the past 10 years to sway the outcomes of elections and government decisions.

The 15 Groups Include:

-- California Teachers Association: $211.8 million

-- California State Council of Service Employees: $107.4 million

-- Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America: $104.9 million

-- Morongo Band of Mission Indians: $83.6 million

-- Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians: $69.2 million

-- Pacific Gas & Electric Co.: $69.2 million

-- Chevron Corp.: $66.2 million

-- AT&T Inc.: $59.6 million

-- Philip Morris USA Inc.: $50.7 million

-- Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians: $49 million

-- Southern California Edison: $43.4 million

-- California Hospital Association: $43 million

-- California Chamber of Commerce: $39 million

-- Western States Petroleum Association: $35.2 million

-- Aera Energy LLC: $34.6 million

> Read More

March 10, 2010

Electronic Signatures To Be Tested In Court

SAN MATEO County will be the test case in determining the legality of electronic signatures submitted on initiative petitions. The case, Michael Ni vs. Warren Slocum, is set to be heard on March 18th and the parties have submitted their pleadings to the Superior Court. The judge's ruling could take California down the road of changing the way signatures are gathered for ballot initiatives.

For additional background on this story, click here and here.

The court pleading submitted by the Petitioner are available here. And the papers for the Respondent - Warren Slocum, are here. The California Secretary of State is being represented by the Attorney General and their pleading is viewable here.

Note: On Verafirma's (developers of the electronic signature application) Facebook site the firm states, "California Secretary of State writes amicus brief opposing Verafirma -- reveals deep and profound lack of understanding of even simplest technology." Pretty strong words!

March 9, 2010

Zambia To Use Biometric Technology In Voter Registration

THE ELECTORAL Commission of Zambia (ECZ), with the assiatnce of the United Nations (UN), will this year use Biometric technology to conduct voter registration. Biometric technology is used to measure and analyze human body characteristics, such as fingerprints, for for either identification or verification purposes.

The UN, through its Development Programme (UNDP), has already selected a company called Smartmatic to provide the new technologies for the improvement of the electoral register for ECZ.

> Read More

March 8, 2010

Many Hats, Many Contributions

I WAS FORTUNATE enough to receive some kind words in today's Mercury News on my decision to leave the public service (notice I didn't say "retire"). Here is what columnist Patty Fisher wrote:

"From his third-floor corner office in the San Mateo County Government Center, Warren Slocum gazes out at the copper and stained-glass dome of the historic county courthouse in downtown Redwood City.

"It may sound corny, but when I look at that courthouse, it puts me in touch with the roots of America," he says. "It's an architectural representation of something that has such meaning. It reminds me of my place in this country's history."

Somehow when Slocum talks about things like history and democracy, it doesn't sound at all corny. That's because the San Mateo County assessor/clerk/recorder/chief elections official, the elected official with what must be the world's longest office title, believes what he says. His love for democracy drove him to run for the office in 1986 and inspired his many innovations over the past 24 years.

Changing of the guard

Slocum, 62, recently announced that he won't run for re-election in June, one of three longtime county officials retiring this year. District Attorney Jim Fox and Tax Collector-Treasurer Lee Buffington also are stepping down after more than two decades in office.

Of the three, I have a feeling that Slocum, because of the many hats he wears, has had the largest impact on the lives of everyday folks, in the county and throughout California. As assessor, he helped school districts and cities, which rely heavily on property taxes, predict revenues by creating software that tracks property as it changes hands and is reassessed, updating each jurisdiction's assessed valuation.

When he unveiled the system for finance managers, they gave him a standing ovation.

As clerk-recorder, Slocum came up with the Wedding Cam, which lets couples married in the clerk's chapel webcast their ceremony to friends and relatives around the world.

"It was such a simple thing, really," he said. "It didn't cost practically anything, and people appreciate it so much."

Election night star

It is as elections czar, however, that he has had the greatest impact. He has been a leader in voting technology and runs the most efficient election-night operation around. Long after his final results are posted, workers in Santa Clara County are still waiting for ballots to count.

Slocum majored in American history at San Diego State University and hoped one day to manage a history museum. But he got a job in the county clerk's office in 1979 and never left. In 1986, he won the clerk-recorder job. He added assessor to his title when the offices were consolidated in 1993. His wife, Maria Diaz-Slocum, is on the Redwood City school board.

In 2006, Slocum considered a run for secretary of state but decided he didn't have the resources for a statewide campaign. Instead, he vowed to continue election reform from the local level. He has pioneered the use of optical scanners for counting ballots and conducted the state's first Internet voting demonstration project. He continues to lobby the Legislature to allow counties to run special elections by mail, which he says is a lot more economical.

Throughout his career, Slocum's goal has been to make elections more accurate and transparent. When counties converted to electronic voting after the 2000 hanging-chad fiasco, he pushed for paper records of all votes cast. He is being sued for refusing petition signatures transmitted by iPhone, saying he can't assure they are valid.

"Voting is the foundation of democracy, and people have to have faith that the vote is secure and secret," he said. "If they have doubts about whether their vote will be counted, and counted correctly, it undermines the whole system."

Corny? Yeah, a little. But true."