Friday, January 08, 2010

CityWatchLA - Crossing The Digital Divide

CityWatch, Jan 8, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 2

The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council has just taken a leap across the Digital Divide and is engaging in a relationship with Everyone Counts in an effort to implement a "digital voting" pilot project for neighborhood council elections. The program would allow stakeholders to use telephones and computers to both "opt-in" or register as well as to vote and the SLNC has set aside $5000 as seed money for the effort which now needs the blessing of the City Clerk, the City Attorney, and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. The recent brouhaha over neighborhood council elections conducted by the City Clerk has stirred up complaints and it was in this discussion over financial limitations, operating restrictions, standardization and outreach that the question of digital innovations came up.

Everyone Counts is a San Diego based company that has conducted elections for groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the Honolulu neighborhood board elections. Their proposal essentially consists of tailoring software to the needs of the neighborhood councils and then licensing it so that it is paid for once and can then be used for multiple elections. The pricing would theoretically be based on the number of registered voters in the City of Los Angeles and would include 24/7 tech support as well as server redundancy as guarantees of service.

As the City enters into the era of "Increase Revenue or Increase Efficiency" and all aspects of City functions are open to inspection and review, it seems reasonable to ask the simple questions such as "Can the City Clerk conduct elections for less money and with greater efficiency?" One of the first places to start would be by determining the real costs of registering candidates, registering voters, polling voters and tabulating results. In addition, what is the real cost to the city, regardless of what department does the work, of conducting NC election outreach.

A couple of things that should be considered in this proposal are the opportunities to open up the scope of influence that the leap over the Digital Divide presents to the City of Los Angeles.

1) Could this system be used to create a citywide digital Stakeholder Community that allows NC's and stakeholders to interact and communicate, long after the election is over?

2) Could this process be structured so that stakeholders could register as candidates without having to navigate so much paper and process?

3) Could this NC Election proposal lay the foundation for a new style of communication, one that allows innovations such as texting and GPS tagging so that everything from potholes to traffic collisions can be more efficiently reported?

4) Would this new style of "Connectivity" provide the City of Los Angeles with more effective and more inexpensive tools for communicating with the community in times of emergency?

As with any new proposal, there were some concerns, this time over accessibility and security. The current NC election process allows for six hours of polling at a single location. The proposal allows people to access the polling system from their own location over a period of time that can stretch for weeks if desired.

The current NC election process varies stakeholder verification standards from NC to NC but the proposed system can also be tailored to allow for pre-registration and certification to opt-in to personal ID verification to PIN numbers.

At the end of the day, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and Everyone Counts are standing by and ready to engage in a pilot project during the upcoming 2010 Board Elections, complementing the City clerk run election with the digital element and all they need is permission.

Is the Los Angeles ready to explore innovations in cost-cutting and improvements to efficiency or will we continue to embrace the status quo?

(Stephen Box has administered numerous neighborhood council elections, is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.netThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it )

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