July 30, 2009

California’s Secretary of State: Come and collaborate!

Debra Bowen

JD LasicaSpent Wednesday night at SocialVoter, a special event featuring California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and presented by CitizenSpace and the Social Media Club. You can follow the tweets on Twitter — for the next two weeks, anyway, when they disappear. So I thought a blog recap would be in order.

Here, too, is a Flickr photo set of the gathering.

For readers who don’t know Debra Bowen, she’s one of the most forward-looking public officials in the land, with a presence on Twitter (@DBowen) and Facebook and, more importantly, a commitment to bringing the public into public policy discussions.

The conversation between Bowen and the 35 participants in the room was free-flowing and wide-ranging, with suggestions about how to provide voters with critical information about candidates and ballot initiatives, how to crowdsource ballot explanations, how to increase transparency in the election process, et al.

Instant runoffs and crowdsourcing ballot arguments

Some highlights:

• Debra Bowen: “The most important resource we have in the Secretary of State’s Office is that I’m there and I want to make this happen. I want people to tell me about how they think this should work. … That’s your job, to figure out where this might go” and to help her and her staff work in a highly collaborative way. “What if people actually worked at the front of the policy chain instead of reacting to it?”

Echoes of President Obama’s call for bottom-up civic participation.

• One practical reason Bowen is looking to democratize some of the work that might traditionally fall to her office: The Secretary of State’s office has 470 employees. 80% of them are doing corporate and business filings and document processing. The elections staff has fewer than 30 employees. The voter education “staff” consists of one full-time and two part-time workers.

• I’ve long been among those who support a system of “instant runoff voting,” which San Francisco has done in the past and Alameda County and other districts are now seriously considering.

In an instant runoff, voters get to vote for not just their favorite candidate but their second and third choices, allowing citizens to vote for their preferred candidate rather than the lesser of two evils. If your candidate finishes out of the running, your vote goes to your second choice, allowing races with multiple candidates to be decided instantly without a runoff. Brilliant.

Said Bowen: “One of the conditions will be a voter education program so we don’t lose a big chunk of voters for an election or two while they figure out how it works.”

• For decades, California voters have been presented with two sides of every ballot proposition, pro and con. “East of the Mississippi, no one does this,” Bowen said. They’re either flummoxed or amazed. But some states are looking to California to emulate the practice.

Meantime, Bowen is taking the pro and con idea one step further. What if we crowdsourced the ballot arguments? she asked us. How would that look? Who polices it? How could people contribute, and should the arguments be limited to just two?

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July 23, 2009

Clay Shirky: How social media can make history

JD LasicaHere’s my friend, NYU prof Clay Shirky, giving a 15-minute TED talk on how social media is changing our media and cultural landscape.

Specifically, Clay focuses on how the amateurization of media through Twitter, Facebook and text messaging helps citizens in repressive regimes to report on what’s happening, bypassing censors unless the government shuts off the Internet spigot entirely. The end of top-down control of news is changing the nature of politics and ending the era of government control.

April 17, 2009

Maplight shines a light on politics & money


Maplight: shining a light on politics and money from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaSean Tanner, research director of MAPLight.org, talks about how the organization provides transparency to the political donations system through widgets that tap into pubic information databases. We spoke at the NetSquared conference in San Jose, Calif., in May 2008, where MAPLight won top honors in 2007.

Maplight offers a number of widgets that you can customize.

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