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Safe Voting Machines for the 2020 presidential election

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penPittsburgh.Org spent 2017 working to have obsolete, insecure voting machines replaced with a new paper-backed voting system.   In consultation with cybersecurity and computer experts and with input from voting rights advocates, OpenPittsburgh.Org prepared an ordinance that would create an expert Voting System Review Commission which would determine the best system for the County to acquire.   A similar ordinance was passed unanimously in 2006, the difference being that it was purely advisory, whereas the current proposed ordinance would instead put a referendum on the ballot by which the County electorate could either approve or disapprove its acquisition.

Unfortunately, the intransigence of the Allegheny County administration forced OpenPittsburgh.Org to take legal action after our proposed ordinance was submitted to County Council through Agenda Initiative and the County Solicitor blocked County Council from even considering it.   Since holding a hearing on October 20, 2017, Judge Joseph James held his 3.5 page decision against us until the last day to file for the Spring primary.   We filed an appeal at 3:40pm on Monday, March, 26th, -- we need your support now!

That brings matters to the next step for 2018, which involves approaching the issue at the municipal level.   The Election Code provides that any municipality can put a referendum on its local ballot to "authorize and direct the use of" the voting system used in its polling places.   All that is needed is a resolution of its governing body or submission of a petition with signatures equal in number to at least 10% of those voting in the previous election.   For a typical election nearly half of Allegheny County's 130 municipalities would need only the required minimum of 50 signatures.   You can obtain a petition to use in your municipality upon request by contacting OpenPittsburgh.Org.

Open Government Amendment to the Pittsburgh City Charter

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n 2016, OpenPittsburgh.Org managed to obtain enough signatures to place a comprehensive City Charter Amendment on the fall ballot after acquiring a federal injunction that enabled using professional canvassers to collect petition signatures.   However, the Mayor's Chief of Staff objected and sought to have the Amendment removed from the ballot.   Though the objections were filed well beyond the mandatory challenge period, nonetheless, Judge Joseph James rejected 70 years of case law and allowed the objections to stand, then withheld his ruling in the expedited case until over two weeks later, issuing it just two days before the ballots were sent to the printer, making a successful appeal virtually impossible.

While being removed from the ballot was at first a huge disappointment, we quickly recognized it created a tremendous opportunity.   Despite the Mayor's statements of support for open government to the contrary, we could clearly see we would be ill-advised to expect the administration to implement the Open Government Amendment effectively if it were ratified.   We can now revise the Amendment, splitting it into two referendum questions, the second being to establish a new, independent Open Government Office with a non-partisan elected director.   The new office would be responsible for implementing the City's new Open Government requirements; for establishing a citywide Citizen Advisory Panel; and for providing the support needed to ensure effective proactive public participation -- all of which in the Amendment's earlier versions was to have been the responsibility of the mayor.

You can get involved and help with drafting the final provisions for the new Open Government Office by contacting OpenPittsburgh.Org today.

Top-down Politics vs Bottom-up Change

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olitical dissatisfaction was the dominate theme of the 2016 presidential election cycle, and it's stimulated non-voters to vote for their first time.   While the election of the U.S. President can have a "huge" impact and deserves our attention, exclusively focusing on the top office perpetuates our top-down process of governance which happens to be a bigger problem than who may be governing.   Even if people elect their desired candidate, expecting a "philosopher king" who'll lead us out of our morass is not merely a false hope, it ignores the more potent possibility of establishing a new bottom-up approach.

“The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy!”   First said over a century ago, it's no less true today.   However, simply getting more people to vote isn't the answer when those elected step into a top-down system that produces the same results.   We need to create and take advantage of real opportunities to reverse the top-down direction of governance.   That's the purpose of Pittsburgh's Open Government Referendum which is designed to provide new tools for citizen participation and an effective structural framework for bottom-up democracy.

While to some people it may seem radical and revolutionary, it's really more of a profound evolutionary step in the long historic progression of democratic governance.   It's been described as putting regular citizens in the middle of government where they can have optimum oversight and hold public officials accountable, yet, even so, elected representatives will continue to make the final decisions.   It would, however, create a dynamic new infrastructure for municipal democracy, adding a new means and structure for meaningful proactive public participation that can generate real, effective, bottom-up governance.

Bottom-up governance may not be as sexy as charismatic candidates who make ridiculous promises that are impossible to keep.   Working to institute incremental changes over time will mean a lot more work for average citizens.   Yet, like the tortoise and the hare, the bottom-up involvement of average individuals can in the end win the race, implementing equitable policies and solutions to the problems facing our society.

“Put not thy faith in princes,” is an age old admonition which is equally appropriate today.   In contrast, regular citizens working together can and do deserve our confidence when they are provided with a process that:

  • establishes an effective two-way conduit for communication between those governing and those governed;
  • enables citizens to develop and propose changes in policy as well as to offer specific solutions that must be heard and given consideration by their elected representatives;
  • can alert and engage the rest of the citizenry in ways unimagined now;
  • enables people to monitor the day to day workings of their governments in real time, giving them continuous oversight and an ability to hold their representatives accountable, a matter which currently requires waiting until years later to show their dissatisfaction at the ballot box.

This is the potential and possibility of the proposed Open Government Amendment to the Pittsburgh City Charter.   Questionable court decisions prevented it from being on the 2016 ballot.   In preparation for a new Initiative in 2018, the Amendment is under revision to circumvent legal challenges and make it stronger and more effective than ever.   Your help now can make it possible in 2018.