On the eve of 2012 we so need to check in here and let you know we're still fighting the good fight and have been totally distracted by a bunch of activities. There is much to catch you up on and we'll start doing that in the ensuing days, but for now we simply wanted to check in and wish everyone a peaceful and prosperous new year. And of course, we intend that to "prosper" is to enrich yourself in any number of ways, not simply financially, but intellectually, physically, and spiritually as well... how ever you chose to do so ;-)
Looking back while looking ahead, as this afternoon before the new year urges us all to do, we are thankful for the great headway we made in 2011 (and we'll have much more to say about those accomplishments separately), and we are energized (and resting up) for the exciting and intense election year ahead. And that brings me to two thoughts I want to share as we approach the celebration of this New Year's Eve 2011.
1. A Near #FAIL
First, if there was one effort or project that approached "#fail" for us this year it was our intended work to produce a new open data, open source elections night reporting system for Travis County, TX, Orange County, CA and others. We were "provisionally chosen" by Travis County pending our ability to shore up a gap in the required funding to complete some jurisdiction specific capabilities.
We approached prospective backers in addition to our current ones and unfortunately we could not get everyone on board quickly enough, and tried to do so on the eve of their budgetary commitments being finalized for other 2012 election year funding commitments, mostly around voter enfranchisement (more on that in a moment.) We were short answers to 2 questions of Travis County, the answers to which well could have dramatically reduced the remaining fund gap requirement and allowed us to accelerate toward final selection and be ready in time for 2012.
For unexplained reasons, Travis County has fallen silent to answer any of our questions, respond to any of our inquiries, or even continue to advance our discussions. We fear that something has happened in their procurement process and they simply haven't gotten around to the courtesy of letting us know. This is frustrating because we've been left in a state of purgatory -- really unable to determine where and how to allocate resources without this resolved. The buck stops with me (Gregory) on this point as I should've pushed harder for answers from both sides: Travis on the technical issues and our Backers on the funding question.
I say this was a "near #fail" because it clearly is unresolved: we know Orange County, as well as other jurisdictions, and media channels such as the AP remain quite keen on our design, the capabilities for mobile delivery, the open data, and of course the open source alternative to expensive (on a total cost of ownership or "TCO" basis) proprietary black-box solutions. Moreover, the election night reporting system is a "not insignificant" component to our open source elections technology framework, and its design and development will continue. And perhaps we'll get some clarity on Travis County, close the funding gap, and get that service launched in time for next Fall's election frenzy. Stay tuned.
So, that is but one of several distractions that allowed this vital blog to sit idle for the last half of summer and all of the Fall. We'll share more about the other distractions in upcoming posts as we get underway with 2012. But I have a closing comment about the 2012 election season in this final evening of 2011.
2. The 2012 Battles on the Front-lines of Democracy Will Start at the Polling Place
Millions of additional Americans will be required to present photo ID when they arrive at the polls in four states next year. Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas will require voters to prove their identities, bringing the total number of States to 30 that require some form of voter identification, this according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
This is an issue that has reached the boiling point and we predict will set off a storm of lawsuits (and they are happening already). It ranks very close to redistricting in terms of its impact on voter enfranchisement according to one side of the argument. Opponents also argue that such regulations impose an unfair barrier to those who are less likely to have photo IDs, including the poor and the elderly. The proponents stand steadfast that the real issue is voter fraud and this is the best way to address it. Of course, the trouble with that argument is that after a five-year U.S. DoJ probe lasting across two different administrations found little (53 cases) discernible evidence of widespread voter fraud. And yet, there are also reasonable arguments suggesting that regardless of voter fraud, there seems to be no difficulty in our elderly, disabled or poor obtaining ID cards (where required) in order to enable them to obtain Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.
To be clear: the Foundation has no opinion on the matter of voter ID. We see arguments on both sides. Our focus is simply this: any voter identification process must be fair, not burdensome, transparent, and uniformly applied. We're far more vested in how to make technology to facilitate friction-free access to the polling place that produces a verifiable, audit-ready, and accountable paper trail for all votes. We do believe that implementing voter ID as a means to restrict the vote is troublesome... as troublesome as preventing voter ID in order to passively enable those who are not entitled as a matter of citizenship to cast a ballot.
Regardless of how you come down on this issue, we believe it will be where the battles begin in the 2012 election season over enfranchising or disenfranchising voters begins.
And with that, we say, 2012: bring it. We're ready. Be there: its going to be an interesting experience. Here we go. Cheers Greg