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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.

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.