Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Madison WI and Washington State attack back on the war on voting

Fantastic news.

Progressive state and local governments are attacking back on the Republican's anti-American war on voting by implementing forward-thinking laws and policies that reduce the barriers between citizens and their ballots.

Yesterday, the Madison (WI) City Council passed an ordinance adding the voter registration form to the pile of paper documents that landlords must distribute to tenants when they move in. This is now law, just in time for the August move-in for UW-Madison students. Half the housing units in Madison are rental units and a large percentage of those units turn over every year.

As Alder Bridget Maniaci, the lead sponsor of the proposal explains, providing voter registration information to citizens when they move into a new place makes sense, since that's when people are changing their address (and they are probably unaware that they must proactively tell some obscure unit of local government they have moved in order to vote months later). From the Isthmus:

The way citizens in the United States vote is based on where they live, Maniaci adds, which means it is sensible to provide them with voting information when they change addresses.
"To provide to tenants voter registration forms at the time they move in, when most individuals are in the process of changing all of their other household information, everything from Netflix to their post-office address to the DMV, that's a very natural time to do this," she says.
As a bonus, getting citizens to register to vote early is cheaper for the city clerk to process than registering people in the crunch leading up to the election, so distributing these voter registration forms will save taxpayers some money.

On the West Coast, Washington State's Secretary of State is unveiling an app that will allow users to register to vote through Facebook. Since Washington State already uses online voter registration, pulling the data from a user's Facebook account and importing it into the voter registration program will make it easier for people to register -- and people can tell their friends about how they registered to vote, creating more of a social norm of democratic self-governance through participation.

Congratulations to Washington and Madison (named after two Founding Fathers, coincidentally) for further implementing the great democratic spirit of our American Republic.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Illinois Democrats attack back in the war on voting with a new law enfranchising citizens

Illinois Democrats continued to expand democracy this week by reducing the barriers that governments puts up between citizens and their ballots.
On July 6, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law SB 3722 (passed with exclusively Democratic votes) that contains two innovative and exciting provisions that will lead to more citizens voting this November.

The first extends the period of time when citizens can register to vote and update their address until the Saturday before the election. This Illinois-specific program is called the grace period for voter registration and runs from the regular registration deadline of 28 days before the election all the way (now) until the Saturday before the election. The deadline had been a week before the election before the new law. Grace period registrants must show up in person at the office of the election administrator (or any office they designate); on-the-street registrations or post office or motor vehicle offices all end at the regular deadline 28 days before the election. 

The grace period was implemented in 2005 for the first time (then-Governor Blagojevich's press release is here and my blog posts on the topic are here) with a 14 day window, extended in 2010 into a 21 day window (here is Governor Quinn's press release) and a few days ago, into a 25 day window. 

At least 20,000 people have been able to vote because of the grace period in the 2010 election. I suspect more than 25,000 will be able to vote -- who otherwise would have been turned away from their ballots because of government-imposed administrative deadlines -- in November of 2012.

The second provision of the new law requires election authorities to offer early voting on the college campuses of the major public universities in the state. This requirement will ensure that college students (who often don't have a car) won't have to make their way to the obscure office of the county clerk off-campus in order to cast an early ballot, but instead will be able to go to a high-traffic area and cast their ballot during the few weeks before the election when early voting is offered. 

This is a model for other states that actually want more people to vote (in clear contrast to mostly-Republican states that are increasing the barriers between citizens and their ballots in a War on Voting). 

Or put another way, Illinois Democrats Attack Back in the War on Voting!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Future of government procurement: concession model as shown by Chicago Department of Aviation

The future of government purchasing for things like trains, schools and subways is a concession. The government agency enters into an agreement with a private developer to design, build, maintain, operate and finance the asset for a number of years for a particular price, and after the term expires, the asset reverts back to the government.

This is a better model than the government playing all the roles, as the asset tends to get built faster and with a lower cost to the taxpayer.

We should be developing new streetcars (like the Clark Street streetcar that an organization I work with is promoting) and new high-speed train tracks and trains using this concession model, as much of Europe already does.

That's why I'm particularly happy to see the City of Chicago Department of Aviation put out a Request for Proposals for a new solar photovoltaic generation facility on O'Hare airport's land using the concession model.

The RFP is here and they call for a private developer to finance, design, construct, install, operate, maintain, repair and replace a new ground-mounted facility of solar panels on up to 52 acres.

The Department of Aviation has been very innovative under Commissioner Rosie Andolino and I'm glad they are continuing to push the envelope.