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Please donate to ensure Allegheny County gets the best Voting Machines

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e need your help to make sure Allegheny County gets the best voting machines.   OpenPittsburgh.Org worked during 2017 in consultation with cybersecurity and computer experts and with input from voting rights advocates to propose an ordinance that would create an expert Voting System Review Commission which would determine the best system for the County to acquire.   But the County Solicitor would not let County Council consider it.   So we appealed to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and Commonwealth Court.

The litigation required hiring a law firm to file the appeal, incurring the accompanying filing and attorney fees.   We have paid around $10,000 so far, but the remaining balance is roughly $33,000 which we need your help to pay.   Anything you can give will help ensure we obtain the best and most secure voting machines possible with voter verified paper-backed voting.   Please donate.

As an alternative, we have also prepared an ordinance to restructure the current Board of Elections as an independent Board of Elections and Registration which separates the oversight of elections from incumbent elected officials and requires some of its appointed members have expertise in computers, cybersecurity, and the needs of people with disabilities.   Half of the new Board would need to have experience as Judges of Elections to make sure a number of its members have prior hands on experience administering elections..   We will be collecting the signatures of 500+ registered Allegheny County voters in order to submit the proposal to County Council.

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.

4 pillars of the Open Government concept

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pen data has been a popular topic in City Hall.   By making more public data available for citizens to analyze, it becomes possible for them to better identify ways to improve the effectiveness of public policy and government programs.   In doing so, open data offers an important contribution to transparency.   However only a small, technologically astute minority of the public has the ability to process much of the raw public data.   Though a number of people with the necessary skills are striving to make the raw data usable by the general public, effective transparency requires much more than access to data sets.

People need to be able to oversee more of the day-to-day workings of their government.   They need to know more about what it’s doing and more about what it is planning to do.   They need to be able to ask questions and get meaningful answers before decisions are made.   There are also practices used by unscrupulous moneyed interests to keep the public in the dark while manipulating the decision making process for personal gain, with significant harm to others.   The proposed Open Government Amendment addresses these matters.

Transparency is essential, but more is also needed.   Having the ability to look is one thing, but knowing when and where to look is another matter.   People need to be informed whenever their specific concerns are possibly going to be affected, before it’s too late and a done deal.   Transparency needs to be combined with enhanced notification.   The proposed Amendment sets various standards and other requirements which make possible an individualized notification process that lets people register their interests and be notified when anything of possible impact is first being discussed.

Notification + transparency are better but still not enough!   Being notified about and learning everything that’s going on in the halls of government will be of little benefit unless citizens have a means to develop and provide meaningful input for the decision making and governance in their communities and unless public officials are required to give their full attention to evaluate that input and act upon it.   To assure this, at the heart of the Open Government Amendment is a pro-active public participation process based upon a process used successfully during the mid-1990's for regional transportation planning in southwestern Pennsylvania – it’s been revised and expanded in the Amendment for use across the entire municipal level.

The basic model:   transparency + notification + proactive public participation.   Combining greater access to information with personal notification and direct citizen oversight of the governing process, the proposed Open Government Amendment should be able to serve as a model for other municipalities.   It is also potentially adaptable for higher levels of government too.

Finally, there must be an independent means to oversee, administer, and enforce official accountability.   By establishing an independent Open Government Office -- with oversight of the various open government requirements; with an ability to investigate citizen complaints and initiate its own inquries; with the potential to refer matters onto the appropriate higher level agencies; and with the means to provide the support required for proactive citizen involvement -- Pittsburgh stands its best chance of achieving a truly open government that meets the needs of the community and not just those of a politically connected elite.