Oct 28 2014

Media Fail – 1, Transparency – 0

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, media, Shelby County

How I long for the good ole days.

How I long for the good ole days.

Once upon a time I thought the media was a defender of democracy. It was a check on the power government exercised. It was a force for good that sought to keep the people connected and the politicians and bureaucracy honest.

Perhaps it was naiveté, or my fond memories of great journalists from the late 70’s through much of the 80’s and early 90’s.

I gave up any illusions of this fairy tale long ago.

That’s not to say there aren’t great journalists out there…they’re just fewer and farther between…and they’re trapped in a business environment where quantity, punch, and social media ‘engagement’ trumps a balanced account of the news.

Such is the case with this truly ignorant report from WREG that aired in July.

The web story is pretty benign, but the report that actually aired takes a Gary Vosot approach to reporting that demands you turn every fallen acorn into a “sky is falling” event.

The news item I’m referencing involves a little known report called the “Participating Voter List”, aka PVL.

What is the PVL?

The PVL is exactly what it sounds like. Its a list of people who have participated in an election. It includes your name and address, precinct information, and in primary elections, which primary ballot you chose to vote on.

Independent observers, political consultants, and campaigns use the PVL to see who’s voted, which areas are turning out more than others, and to tailor their communications to people who haven’t voted by purging the names of people who have voted from their direct communication list (mail, phone, and canvassing).

If you don’t want annoying calls, knocks, or mail, vote early and all that will stop…if the campaign is managed effectively.

Aside from primary ballot information, there is no information in the PVL that’s any more dangerous to your privacy than the information from an old school phone book, or white pages dot com.

But reporter Michael Quander’s piece makes it sound as if the very act of voting could endanger your privacy in some way.

That’s simply not the case. There are far easier and more informative ways and places to get that information than the Election Commission…though you’d never know it from his actual report.

Because of Quander’s report, the Election Commission now only sends the PVL out by request, instead of publishing it in the deep dark recesses of the Election Commission website where only people who know where it is can find it.

Why is the PVL important?

The PVL is important because it is a way to, in nearly real time, see what’s going on with an election.

The PVL was how Joe Weinberg and I found the redistricting errors that resulted in over 3000 voters receiving the wrong ballot in the August 2012 election.

At that time, the PVL was posted directly on the Election Commission’s website daily. Because of this, we were able to run our tests promptly and without waiting for a gatekeeper to open the gate for us (other than waiting for the report to be posted). This allowed both of us the ability to work, as volunteers…using our own time and getting paid nothing for our efforts, to expose one of the greatest election screw-ups in recent memory.

Had the PVL’s only been available by request, it may have taken several more days to complete our tests, causing a greater delay in resolving the problem, and potentially disenfranchising thousands of more voters in the process.

There is a small, tightly knit group of mostly volunteers, on both sides of the aisle, who pay very close attention to this report. Any delay is a huge setback because we are working on our own time, and of our own initiative.

Thanks to another barrier being placed due to unnecessary fear drummed up by this report, the next election disaster, should it occur, will take days longer to identify.

Way to go Channel 3.

Playing both sides of the privacy fence

But what is perhaps most perversely ironic is that the PVL is more safe than many of the methods WREG, and other commercial websites use to make money off of you.

Have you ever noticed that things you’ve browsed on Amazon or other online retailers regularly show up on ads at completely unrelated websites?

That monetization of “Big Data” is something every single news website in the country uses to generate revenue. It uses cookies, scripts, and your browser history to tailor ads to you, to increase their revenue.

In doing so, they’re taking advantage of your ignorance of potential privacy concerns far more than the Election Commission or any other government agency that is required by law to publish or make available information about you and yours.

A blow to good reporting

Aside from the report being…just dumb…the Election Commission’s decision to no longer post the PVL is also a blow to reporters who know what to do with the report…other than stir up unnecessary FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the minds of viewers.

In years past, experienced reporters and election observers have used the report to do good journalism in the public interest. I remember the first time I started seeing reports like this, but in particular, the work of Commercial Appeal reporter Zack McMillian back in 2010 when he was on the political beat.

He used the information in a way that challenged me to dig even deeper into the report…which ultimately led to the discoveries Dr. Weinberg and I made going public.

Journalism is supposed to both inform people, and make those who engage in it, either by profession or by hobby, better. Quander’s report doesn’t do that. It preys on the uninformed fears of people, who are already scared of the very big data his company makes money off of.

So way to go Michael Quander, and the Producers, News Directors, and other influential decision-makers at WREG Channel 3. You’ve just made it harder for people just like you to do their job. I know you’re proud.

Jun 30 2011

Cognitive Dissonance and the Free ID Bill

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, State Politics

Stolen from Think Progress

I’ve had a little time to think about all the rules and regulations required to receive one of those “free” ID’s I wrote about yesterday and after looking at the regulations, I’m pretty sure they’re not free at all.

When you consider the dollars in time spent and fees to get the required documents together, plus who this bill disenfranchises, all of the sudden it becomes exceedingly clear what the real motivation was, and that this high bar may actually be unconstitutional.

So first, we’ll look at the actual requirements.

State law requires 4 kinds of ID verification if you want a state photo ID. Two verifying identity, two that verify residence. We’ll start with the identity part:

Primary ID Documents

Documents Needed Cost
U.S. photo driver license or photo ID card, License from another country

May also include photo learner permits.
U.S. Department of State Driver’s License also acceptable.

Cost: unknown.

These vary from state to state. Of course, if you already have a photo ID it’s a heck of a lot easier to prove you’re who you say you are.

Original or Certified Birth Certificate

Must be original or certified, have an official seal and be issued by an authorized government agency such as the Bureau of Vital Statistics or State Board of Health.

IMPORTANT: Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010 will not be recognized as a form of primary or secondary identification beginning November 1, 2010.

The government of Puerto Rico has provided information for citizens to apply for new birth certificates.

Foreign birth certificates, not issued in English, must be translated and accompanied by a Certificate of Accurate Translation.

NOTE: Hospital issued certificates (mother’s copy) are not acceptable.

Cost: Depends

A basic birth certificate in Tennessee costs $8. However, to get one you also have certain ID requirements

On top of that, I’m not sure if you’ve tried to get a birth certificate lately, but it’s not exactly the speediest process. Cost in time spent could be as short as 30 min, and as long as 3 hours.

Military Identification
Active Duty, Retiree or Reservist military ID card (DD Form 2 or 2A)
Discharge papers (DD-214)
Military Dependent ID card (for spouse or children of Active Duty Military personnel)
Cost:minimal if you’ve served in the military.

Again, if you’ve already got one of these, your identity should be pretty easy to prove.

Military ID’s are acceptable for voting.

Valid, Unexpired United States Passport Cost:High

Also, if you already have one of these, you can use it to vote.

Valid, Unexpired Foreign Passport
Foreign passports must contain a Valid United States Visa or I-94 to be used as a primary proof of indentification.

Foreign passports, not issued in English, must be translated and accompanied by a Certificate of Accurate Translation. Passports are not acceptable if expired.

Cost: Who knows?

What’s more, this may work for an ID, but if you have a foreign passport, chances are you don’t qualify to vote, unless you have dual citizenship or something

United States Citizenship and Immigration Service Documentation

Certificate of Naturalization N-550, N-570, N-578
Certificate of Citizenship N-560, N-561, N-645
Employment Authorization card (I-766)
Northern Mariana Card
American Department of Indian Affairs Tribal Card
U.S. Citizen Identification Card (I-179, I-197)
Temporary Resident Identification Card (I-688)
Travel Documents Record of Arrival and Departure (I-94)
Border Crossing Identification (I-586)
Nonimmigrant Visa/Border Crossing Card (DSP-150)
U.S. Re-entry Permit (I-327)
Refugee I-94 Record of Arrival and Departure stamped “Refugee”
Refugee Travel Document (I-571)
Canadian Immigration Record and Visa or Record of Landing (IMM 100)
Canadian Department of Indian Affairs issued ID card.

Cost: Too many to quantify.

Some of these are free, some may not be. Honestly, many of them don’t apply to citizens, so they wouldn’t work for the purposes of voting anyway, just getting an ID

Marriage License/Certificate

Must include the applicant’s full name and date of birth. The certificate must be the original or certified copy that is registered AFTER the marriage; NOT just the “license”authorizing the union.

Cost:$15 in Tennessee.

Other states likely vary.

Federal Census Record

Must include the applicant’s full name and date of birth (age).

Cost: Free?

Honestly, I don’t even know what this is.

Applicant’s Own Child’s Birth Certificate

Must include the applicant’s (i.e parent’s) full name and date of birth not just “age” of parent at the time of the child’s birth.

Cost: See birth certificate above.

This is really for children seeking their first state issued ID. I don’t think my mom needs to come with me to the DMV to get an ID, but you never know, that could change.

Adoptive Decree

Must include the applicant’s full name and date of birth.

Cost: How much is an adoption?

Again, this seems to be geared toward children seeking their first state issued ID

Legal Change of Name (Divorce, etc.)

As recorded in court decree with judge’s original signature and/or official court seal.

NOTE: Copy of court document with copied seal/signature is not acceptable. Copy of court document with an original signature/seal that is affixed to copy is acceptable.

Cost: How much is a divorce?

Seriously, if nothing else there are copying fees involved if a person doesn’t have or has lost this document after a divorce, and of course, ID requirements to even get this information

Any confirmation of date of birth in court of law

As recorded in court document(s) with judge’s original signature and/or official court seal.

NOTE: Copy of court document with copied seal/signature is not acceptable. Copy of court document with an original signature/seal that is affixed to copy is acceptable.

Cost: Again there are copying costs and ID requirements associated with this.

In short, if you can get a copy of this, you likely already have the ID necessary to get a state issued photo ID

Any other documentary evidence which confirms to the satisfaction of the Department the true identity and date of birth of the applicant. Ahh, well that clears things up. Seems a bit arbitrary. It would be interesting to send in two people with identical non-conforming information and see if they both get the same result.

Maybe someone should test this

If you have one of these things you have completed step 1. On to step 2.

Secondary ID Documents

Documents Needed Cost
Computerized Check Stubs

Must include the applicant’s full name pre-printed on the stub.

I wonder how they determine what’s “computerized”. Also, I could knock one of these out in a heartbeat. Really, anyone with a computer and a little time could too.
Union Membership Cards
Must include the applicant’s full name preferably with photo and/or Social Security number.
Cost:Union Membership

Actually, after what they did this session to unions, this is kind of surprising

Work IDs

Preferably with photo and/or Social Security number.

Cost:Unknown

If you work at a place that requires an ID this may help, but most don’t.

Financial Institution Documents

Computer printouts of bank statements, savings account statements, loan documents, etc.

Cost: Bank fees.

Believe it or not, not everyone has a bank account. This reality is evidenced by the huge influx of “Check Cashing” places all over the state.

Social Security Documents

Social Security Card (original only not metal or plastic replicas)
Printout or benefits statements, etc.
Social Security Check or Direct Deposit Verification of Social Security Check

Cost: Free if

If you have time to wait for SSA to issue a new card, or happen to have a statement handy.

Health Insurance Card

TennCare, Medicaid, Medicare, etc.
Health Insurance Card
Insurance Policies or Payment statements

Cost: Unknown

If you have Tenncare or something like that it may be free, or not. Honestly, this is not an area of expertise for me.

IRS/state tax form

W2 Forms, Property tax receipts, etc.

Cost: Free?

If you work you may have an old W-2 lying around. I wonder how old it can be before they no longer accept it.

Military Records

Assignment orders, selective service cards, Leave & Earnings Statement, etc.
United States or Foreign

Cost: Free

If you served in the military and they mess with you at the polling place or the ID office, shame on them.

School Records

Transcript of grades
Elementary Immunization or “Shot” Records
Diploma or G.E.D.

Cost: Varies

Most high schools will release your transcripts for a small copying and postage fee. Again, proof of identity is usually required for this, so if this is an option, you probably don’t need it in the first place

Vehicle Documents

Vehicle Registration or title
Bill of Sale or purchase contract

Cost: Depends

If you can buy a car, you also probably already have ID.

Ok, so after you’ve found 2 things that satisfy that requirement, you still have to prove your residence. Here’s that lovely list.

Two Documents from List A
Documents must show residence address used on application and your name or the name of your spouse. Proof of relationship will be required unless you are using the spouse’s Tennessee Driver License number and it has the same last name and address as the applicant.

If the applicant is a minor child or adult child still residing with parents, proof of relationship is also required with the name of the parent or legal guardian.

OR

One Document from List A and One Document from List B

List A
• Current utility bill including landline telephone, electric, water, gas, cable, etc. (Wireless telephone bills cannot be accepted)
• Current bank statement (Internet bank statements are acceptable only if taken to the local bank, stamped and dated by teller as an active account. Checks and checkbook information are not acceptable)
• Current rental/Mortgage contract or receipt including deed of sale for property.
• Current employer verification of residence address or letter from employer as long as it is on company letterhead with original signature. If employer does not have letterhead then signature of employer must be notarized.
• Current paycheck/check stub, work ID or badge, if address is included.
• Current automobile, life or health insurance policy (Wallet Cards cannot be accepted)
• Current driver license/ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety to a parent, legal guardian or spouse of applicant
• Current Tennessee motor vehicle registration or title
• Current Tennessee voter registration
• Current Internal Revenue Service tax reporting W-2 form within last 12 months
• Receipt for personal property or real estate taxes paid within past last year
• In case of a student enrolled in public or private school in this state, student may provide a photo student ID and acceptable documentation from the Dean or Bursar Office that the student lives on campus.

List B

• Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) issued by the Internal Revenue Service
• Form I-94 issued to the applicant by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service
• Employment Authorization card (I-766) issued to the applicant by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service
• I-551 issued to the applicant by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service

If you made it through all that, could find the appropriate documents, and they were accepted by the folks at the ID place, you can get your free ID. Congratulations. Of course, if you didn’t have these documents handy, there’s no telling how much time and money you may have had to spend to actually get one of these “free ID’s”.

Finally, here’s a list that Bill Ketron, the author of both bills, passed along noting what is acceptable ID.

Jan 07 2011

Vote Yes for School Unity – Media Event

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, elections, Memphis, Policy, Shelby County

Below is video I shot of the Press Conference this morning at 11. I got there just as Commissioner Chism was wrapping up so I don’t have his presentation. Also, the video is a little shaky as I’m getting used to both shooting with a flip and my new glasses.

I’m working on one more video that includes the Q&A portion of the event. I’ll add it to this post as soon as I’ve completed processing it.

You can join the effort on Facebook. There is a web page in the works. I’ll link to that as soon as it’s complete.

Update: I’ve added the question and answer section below.

Aug 05 2009

Just Another Day in Paradise…

Yesterday, in the Commercial Appeal’s Eye on Memphis blog former City Council member and possible Mayoral candidate Edmund Ford Sr. was quoted saying,“People are very tired in this city.”…”You know why?” he said. “Everything that’s happening, people think that people are asleep right now but they’re watching. Hey, they’re sitting and watching everything.”

I think Ford’s right, people are tired, but they’re watching with a weary eye toward both the Mayor Pro Tem’s office and the City Council.

It’s not because either has necessarily done anything specific to warrant this feeling, but the cumulative effect of a contentious few months, including a transition at the executive level for the first time in 18 years. People here aren’t practiced in accepting new leadership, particularly when that leadership may only last 90 days. Now Memphians are being asked to accept as many as three possible transitions over the next 3 years…one now, another one is likely in 90 days, and the possibility of third in 2011. That’s a lot of potential change for a city that hasn’t had much of any in nearly a generation.

Early Missteps

Myron Lowery’s tenure in the 7th story office of the Mayor may only be in its infancy, but already people are questioning his judgment. This should come as no surprise, since Herenton basically set up these questions himself with his July 6th letter changing his date of retirement, and his public statements charging that Lowery was putting the cart before the horse.

In all honesty, Lowery hasn’t been very politically astute in some of his early actions. From his calls early last month for a shake-up at City Hall, to his fumbling of the removal of City Attorney Elbert Jefferson, Lowery has put himself in an unnecessarily adversarial position to at least six members of the council. This is exacerbated partially because of his role as the swing vote in the vacancy resolution, and through his moves that some argue, are designed to subvert Council action on the issue of the City Attorney.

The truth of the matter is that there are only 11 votes in play for the City Attorney issue. Strickland must recuse himself due to pending litigation. That means that it takes 6 votes on the Council to remove Jefferson. Only 5 are a sure thing. Lowery’s decision to roll the vote until August 18th, gives him time to either let the court decide, or build a case against Jefferson. That case, if strong enough, could shift that sixth vote to his side.

Residency Questions

Lowery didn’t help his cause ANY by announcing Jefferson’s replacement would be a person that doesn’t live in Memphis. Because of the City’s residency requirement, all city employees are required to live within the city limits. New hires, that are not temporary employees, have six months to establish residency. This is a problem because Lowery’s tenure may only last 3 months. By appointing someone that lives outside the City limits, Lowery has opened the door to be treated, and have his appointments treated as temporary. Division Directors, like the City Attorney, are not temporary employees, whose offices are authorized through the charter as that serve at the pleasure of the Mayor with approval from the Council.

The Chief Executive Officer of the City of Memphis shall be the mayor, who shall be vested with and exercise the executive and administrative power of the City, shall be authorized to administer, supervise and control all divisions, boards, agencies, offices and employees of the City and shall see that the ordinances and provisions of the Charter are observed, except as otherwise specifically provided. Such administration shall be conducted by and through divisional directors under the supervision and control of the mayor, as provided herein. He shall devote his entire time and attention to the duties of his office. (Section 35 of Memphis Charter)

Despite the potential temporary nature of Lowery’s tenure as Mayor, he is, by all accounts, still the Mayor, and has all the rights and responsibilities of the Mayor at his disposal. The argument, fronted by Council members Halbert and Ware, that the 6 month provision somehow doesn’t apply to Mayor Lowery because his tenure won’t last that long, is a stretch. The residency requirement says nothing about the length of the appointment having any bearing on the hire.

Failure of any officer or employee to comply with the provisions of this section shall be cause for removal or discharge from city employment. New employees shall be allowed six (6) months after the date they are hired or appointed to comply with this section. (Section 190 Memphis Charter)

The residency requirement doesn’t stop members like Ware and Halbert from voting against an appointee. That’s well within their prerogative, but it also doesn’t stop the Mayor, regardless of the amount of time left in his term, from putting forth whomever he wishes for the City Council to approve, residency or not.

Council Connundrum

I’ve already touched on this, but now that the City Council is set in a six/six split, the appointment of Division Directors and the movement of city business is likely to be stuck in a deadlock for the entire tenure of Mayor Lowery. This scenario is difficult for the city going forward. Even though there were only two no votes for the appointment of former Council member Jack Sammons as CAO, any other appointments, or potential replacements of Division Directors will likely be held up by the Council unless a consensus choice, like Sammons, is brought before the Council.

From a political perspective, this can be a plus or a minus for the Lowery Administration. Clearly the city is ready to move forward. Those who would oppose that forward movement can be looked upon as obstructionists. But that assumes that Lowery can muster the same kind of media attention and perception of authority that Herenton demanded.

There is no question that, under a Herenton Administration, a move like the one Lowery made in regard to Jefferson, would have been accompanied with a full menu of the powers of the executive, and dire warnings to the Council if they were to somehow undermine or question his authority. Lowery is hamstrung by the potential temporary nature of his tenure, and the general belief that he will not win the Mayor’s office. Under this circumstance, Lowery has two options, try to build consensus, or play the role of a reformer being held hostage by Herenton loyalists on the Council. I don’t know which role Lowery is most suited for, but certainly he needs to make that choice soon and follow through COMPLETELY with whichever strategy he believes he can accomplish, lest he lose the confidence of his supporters and the city at large.

Election Set

Yesterday, the Shelby Co. Election Commission set the date for the special election. This election will be for the City Mayor, and State Sen. Dist. 31, which was left vacant after the resignation of Paul Stanley (R-KISS), following his intern debacle. The election will be held October 15th with a qualifying deadline on September 3rd and withdrawals by the 10th. This makes the election two weeks sooner than originally scheduled.

Moving the election up doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to anyone at the Election Commission yet, so, until then I’ll withhold judgment. What hasn’t been reported on is if this will be a primary election for this seat. I assume it will be a primary, since there’s no time for one between now and then, which means that ANOTHER election will have to be held for Sen. Dist. 31, which covers Bartlett, Cordova, Germantown, and 20 precincts in Memphis.

Assuming that this is a primary election for State Sen. 31, then that could shift who participates in the 20 precincts here in Memphis.

There are already three Republicans vying for the Senate seat; Rep. Brian Kelsey (R-83), Rep. Steve McManus (R-96), and Shelby Co. School Board Chair, David Pickler. This contest, particularly with the entrance of the controversial Kelsey into the race, could activate a large number of Republican primary voters. How this will play out in the 20 Memphis precincts that are represented by Dist. 31 is somewhat unknown. In the 2006 general, the Democratic candidate carried those 20 precincts by 1100 votes out of 15,000 cast. However, assuming there is no contest in the Democratic Primary, or possibly no candidate, this could elevate Republican participation, effectively deciding the seat without a general, which could tip the balance in the Mayor’s race.

It’s a stretch, I know, but should someone like Conrad enter the race, particularly with the presence of a dozen candidates on the Mayor’s ballot, inflated Republican turnout in these 20 districts could turn the tide. In the end, it will probably just help County Mayor AC Wharton.

Which is where I’m going to end this post, because, barring a sex scandal, or credible allegations of something hugely untoward, AC Wharton will be the next Mayor of Memphis. He has all of the elements of a successful campaign in place; money, people and time. He’s been running since the day after the 2007 election, he’s got a huge war chest, and he’s had people out working for him since Chism’s picnic, just days before Herenton announced his original resignation date.

No one else is that prepared, no one else was even in the starting blocks. So while I generally agree with LWC’s analysis of the race, reality is reality, and until someone steps up, it’s his to lose.

Mar 18 2009

Sunshine in Memphis – Part 3

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County

On Monday I talked about the online transparency efforts of the City of Memphis. Yesterday we touched on Shelby County Government. Today I want to focus on the Shelby County Election Commission.

Before I begin, I have to say that nearly every interaction that I have had with the staff of the Election Commission has been positive. To be honest, I’ve made some pretty annoying requests of some of the people in the Election Commission office, often times with little knowledge of what all goes in to fulfilling the request, and the people at the downtown office have always delivered, though sometimes it did require some clarification. In short, you guys do a good job.

The Shelby Co. Election Commission’s site serves two basic purposes. The first is to educate and inform voters on how to register, and where to vote. This information is readily available and easily accessible. In fact, the new design of the site actually works in ALL BROWSERS. This is a HUGE improvement over the site that existed just six months ago, and perhaps the most functional area of the site.

The second thing the site is supposed to do is provide access to election results and reports. This is where it really starts to suffer. First of all the Java JRE 5.0 plugin doesn’t work in all browsers (Safari on the Mac), though it does seem functional in Firefox. This is something that they should note on the first page to ensure people don’t go chasing their tail trying to MAKE it work.

Accessing the Election Reports is simple enough, though I notice that the Precinct Report for 2008 looks like it was scanned. Why not just download the copy from the State Site, or generate a PDF from the original document?

While accessing the reports are easy enough, doing anything with the data is a painful experience. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to copy and paste anything from a PDF to Excel or a Text document, but really, it’s borderline stupid. I don’t know what’s technically involved, but if a program can generate a PDF, one would think it could also generate a delimited text document, or CSV, or Excel spreadsheet. It would be nice if these things were made available on the site, for people like myself who are trying to learn the intricacies and trends of Shelby County voters, in some way, outside of the conventional wisdom. Further, it doesn’t seem like it would cost anything more to do something like this. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

There’s a third purpose that the Election Commission serves, but offers absolutely no web support for whatsoever, and that’s collecting and maintaining financial disclosures for local candidates. This is something that I really want to be made available on the web, but I know will be a HUGE undertaking. Still, since the state passed a law allowing counties to set up electronic financial disclosure filings, one obstacle is out of the way. The other obstacle is getting the candidates to actually file electronically.

I’ve looked at and had copies made of some local financial disclosures, and I’ve gotta say, the methods are all over the map. Some campaigns simply attach an Excel spreadsheet to the disclosure form, instead of using the actual 4 entries to a page form provided to detail the contributions and expenditures. Some actually hand write every single contribution and expenditure on the detail list (you know who you are). This presents a challenge for the Election Commission to make these records available electronically. Folks, this challenge isn’t lost on me, but that also doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t happen.

Currently, if you want to view a financial disclosure you have to truck on down to the office, fill out a form, and then you can see the disclosures. If you want a copy, that’ll be 25 cents a page please. If you’re trying to assess a trend, or look at who’s giving money to whom, this can represent a HUGE expense. Making these documents available online would be a great boon to transparency in electoral politics in Shelby County.

The long and the short of it is, the Shelby County Election Commission does a pretty good job of handling it’s core responsibility to voters, educating them about the voting process and making voting results available to the public. There’s room for improvement, in these areas, and even some simple fixes that could be done for easier access. The third area, financial disclosures, represents the biggest opportunity for the body online. Whether this happens or not is more an issue of funding and educating elected officials more than anything else. I hope, as the economy improves and local budget deficits are resolved, that monies will be set aside for this improvement. With County and City elections coming up in 2010 and 2011, it would be a great asset to Shelby County voters, and set us on the cutting edge of local financial disclosures in the south.

Ed. Note: Posting over the next several days will be limited as I am traveling through the 25th. Enjoy the rest of Sunshine week!