Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Berkeley -- A City of Firsts

A lot of the work I do with the California Voter Foundation is focused on how California can set a good example for the nation and world when it comes to responsible use of technology in the democratic process.

There's good reason to think California will have an impact -- it traditionally does. Whether it's property tax revolts, term limits, electric cars, recycling, smoking bans, electronic filing of campaign finance disclosure reports, paper trails for electronic voting....well, you get the idea. The influence is so persistent that in DC there is at times a bias against anything California.

Like it or not, California is no doubt a trendsetter in numerous ways, and within the state, the city of Berkeley is the place where trends begin. Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle featured this story by Carolyn Jones about Berkeley's long history of "firsts". A few excerpts are below.


Sometimes Berserkeley isn't so berserk after all.

Many ideas spawned in Berkeley - and roundly mocked by the rest of the country - have taken root and have been adopted by cities everywhere. Among them: police radios, a ban on Styrofoam, health benefits for domestic partners and a switch to biodiesel for city cars.

These and other Berkeley firsts are part of a painstakingly researched show at the Berkeley History Center that chronicles the city's long history of civic innovation. "Berkeley, a City of Firsts" covers dozens of ideas that started there, including some that flopped and a few that Berkeley claims credit for but really happened elsewhere.

"There's no small city in the U.S. more known in the nation and world - for better or worse - than Berkeley," said Charles Wollenberg, chair of the history department at Berkeley City College and author of "Berkeley: A City in History" (UC Press, 2008). "For a city of 100,000, it has a huge influence."

Berkeley's creative approach to government goes back to the city's early days, when the University of California moved there from Oakland in the 1870s. The mix of academic intellectuals and Bohemian castoffs from San Francisco's Gold Rush era made for a very independent, quirky population, Wollenberg said.

Besides the innovations from City Hall, Berkeley has been the birthplace of less tangible ideas, such as the Free Speech Movement, the disability rights movement and California cuisine.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Getting ready for the June Primary

The next statewide election is less than two months away! The California Voter Foundation is busy working on a new edition of our California Online Voter Guide which will debut soon. In the meantime, the official Certified List of Candidates and Statewide Voter Information Guide are available from the Secretary of State.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

LA Times/Onion on Diebold (April Fools!)

Today's Los Angeles Times online features this excellent blog entry by Andrew Malcolm "reporting" on a Diebold software glitch. The glitch was first "reported" by the Onion News Network (ONN)in this online news video. Andrew Malcolm's story adds some interesting twists to the original Onion report. Excerpts are below. Happy April Fools day!


An apparent simultaneous software glitch in thousands of Diebold electronic voting machines across the country during the night accidentally released word that Arizona Arizona Republican Senator John McCain will officially win the general election on Nov. 4.

Release of the preset presidential election results months prematurely could become a serious embarrassment to the company whose expensive and allegedly unreliable electronic voting machines have been so controversial in some places.

"We really don't know how this happened," a company spokesman told The Ticket, "but we stress that all the congressional election outcomes are still sealed. So there's still some mystery. And we're asking the news media to suppress the presidential news results in order to maintain the national political suspense for another seven months." Obviously, the appeal for secrecy worked on other websites but not on The Ticket.

The computer error is certain to affect negatively the television....

audience ratings on election night, since viewers will have known the winner for exactly 31 weeks. So election night's mounting popular vote counts, the states changing colors, electoral college totals and pleasant people with perfect hairdos predicting state outcomes and discussing what it all means will look like the sham it is, except this time viewers will know it.

CA Post-election tally reports now online at SoS site

Today California Secretary of State Debra Bowen began publishing post-election tally reports from counties on the results of their one percent manual counts which are conducted to audit the accuracy of computer vote counts.

California's manual count law is more than four decades old. Basically, a set of ballots are selected at random and hand-counted, in public. The hand-counted results are then compared to the computer-counted results.

What happens if they don't match? That's been a nagging question for a number of years. Fortunately, when Secretary Bowen was a member of the legislature, she authored a bill to require counties to report the results of their manual counts. So far 12 of the state's 58 counties have done so.

California is one of just two states that I know of (the other being Minnesota) that require reporting of post-election audit results. What these audits show is that vote counting is rarely perfect, but that there is also usually a reasonable explanation of why the results may be off by a few votes. You can view those explanations in the reports.

While California law requires counties to report their manual count results to the Secretary of State, it does not require the Secretary of State to publish these reports online. Kudos to Secretary of State Debra Bowen for doing so. We need this kind of transparency in elections to give the public confidence that election results are accurate.