Tag Archives: Ballotpedia

Ballotpedia – A proven port in an information storm

It was Plato himself who advised us that “those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” My thought is that the translation “dumber” does a disservice to the wise man – “misinformed” might better fit the present state of affairs. Still, we get the idea.

It is axiomatic that this democracy is solidly based on an informed public; still, we the public are overwhelmed by questionable data, dubious interpretations, false accusations, apocryphal anecdotes and blatant abound. The flood of information offers us little time and few tools to consider the context or implications of the latest blast. The media blitz and push for ratings, the tweets, the cacophony and exchanges of ignorance have a propensity to drown out – or at least scramble – the truth.

One port in a storm I’ve found is Ballotpedia, the dynamic digital beehive based, as the mainstream media would say, “out there” – i.e. free of the NYC/DC political/media cocoon. Ballotpedia is the product of the Lucy Burns Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin, near Madison. You can learn more about the Lucy Burns Institute in an earlier post: (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/the-spirit-of-activist-lucy-burns-blazes-on-through-the-lucy-burns-institute)

Basically, Ballotpedia is an online encyclopedia of American politics and elections. The expressed goal is “to inform people about politics by providing accurate and objective information about politics at all levels of government.” Ballotpedia is a one-stop shop for information about the structure, policies, officials, demographics, and issues facing decision makers and those affected by their decisions. With an editorial staff of over 60 writers and researchers, and a complex system of internal fact-checking, Ballotpedia’s “brand” could fairly be characterized as inclusive, accurate, timely, and, above all, neutral.

One of my personal favorite features of Ballotpedia is the list of “influencers” who call the shots in DC, in the State Capitol and at City Hall. While the reader might differ with the listing of identified influencers, it’s instructive to see these fact-checkers’ take on where the influence lies….

In the midst of the current political frenzy one feature of Ballotpedia plays a lead role; Verbatim (https://ballotpedia.org/Verbatim) is the fact-checking arm of the enterprise. The legions of Verbatim fact-checkers are neutral, inclusive and at the ready. To their credit, they generously share contact information about their fact-checking colleagues and post links to academic studies on the fine art of fact-checking.

Ballotpedia fact-checkers boldly list the names and links to the host of fact-checking agencies that are delving into every word that’s uttered – or tweeted – in the ongoing political frenzy. More important, they will continue to keep their penetrating eyes on the state and local data/opinion ball when the dust settles.

The encyclopedia role and scope of Ballotpedia defies explanation and demands exploration. As might be expected, the wise founders of the multi-faceted resource provide a mix of helpful guides including tables, maps, interactive tools and more. As current events permit they also produce and maintain an online library of videos and publish The Ballotpedia Podcast. Needless to say Ballotpedia has a vibrant social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – no doubt the best way to follow the action in the weeks and months to come.

Don’t just dip but delve into the depths of this straightforward, user-friendly, accessible and neutral resource – it will inform you through – and way beyond — Election Season 2016!

 

 

Some non-partisan notes on 2014 votes

Have you ever found yourself alone and clueless in the voting booth, suddenly aware that there are whole columns of unknown candidates vying for positions you never knew existed? There’s an app for that!

My Ballot is now up and running for the November 4th election. The site provides the voter with a sample ballot complete with links to popular sites that provide information about each candidate. It covers any election in the state of Minnesota.

Find My Ballot at www.myballot.info – Enter your zip code and you’ll find the exact replica of the ballot you’ll face in the voting booth – with a digital crib sheet. You can’t vote online, but you can prepare yourself to make the best decisions when your turn comes.

Still, for some Minnesotans, getting to the polls this season will present a mighty challenge. The October 10 issue of Access Press, now on the newsstands, shines light on a harsh reality — voters with disabilities can’t depend on a lift to the polls this year. Since 2008 the Rides to the Polls Coalition, made up of several disability service providers and organized through Courage Kenny, has been funded by the Frey Foundation to provide rides to persons with disabilities. Those funds are no more, and no other provider has been able to continue the service.

The Secretary of State’s office encourages voters who need transportation to the polling place to contact family, friends or neighbors. It would seem appropriate to reverse the message to encourage mobile Minnesotans to consider family members, friends and neighbors who might need a ride.

Though Metro Transit in the Twin Cities must offer regular fixed-route transit service free of charge on Election Days the rule does not apply in non-urban areas. In some communities political parties provide rides.  In any event, this patchwork approach falls far short of the need, particularly since people with disabilities have long depended on the Rides to the Polls Coalition.

One option is for voters with disabilities to vote absentee by mail or by going to an elections office prior to Election Day. This means people need to know the rules of absentee voting in advance. For the rules on absentee voting and everything else you ever wanted to know about Minnesota election law and were afraid to ask, check Ballotpedia where the Secretary of State posts all the rules: http://ballotpedia.org/Minnesota_elections,_2014#Voting_absentee

 

 

 

The spirit of activist Lucy Burns blazes on through the Lucy Burns Institute

Lucy Burns will celebrate her birthday on July 28.  She’s turning 135, still taking a stand for women’s rights and doing what needs to be done to assure that the electorate is informed and engaged in the democratic process.

Lucy Burns, born July 28, 1879 in Brooklyn, was an unflappable suffragette, co-founder (with Alice Paul) of the National Women’s Party.  Well educated and financed by her wealthy father, Lucy first encountered activism – and Alice Paul – while a student in Britain.  She soon gave up her studies, went to work for the Women’s Social and Political Party, and dove deep into the cause of women in the UK.

Burns and Paul returned to the US where they worked for some time with the National American Woman Suffrage Association.  In time, Paul and Burns differed with the tactics of NAWSA and went on to establish what became the National Women’s Party

The story of Burns is one of activism, association with powerful women of the day (e.g. Dorothy Day) and a fade from center stage as she left Paul to take the lead and returned to take on family responsibilities until her quiet death in 1966.

Still, it was to the story of Lucy Burns that Leslie Graves returned in 2006 when she envisioned the potential of the Lucy Burns Institute, a powerful force that continues to grow and thrive from its home base in Madison, Wisconsin.  Graves’ inspiration came not from Burns’ fight for women’s rights but from her own outrage at the mindless procedures that blocked her Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Assured that her frustration was widely shared by countless FOIA requesters Graves took action. In December 2006 the Lucy Burns Institute was incorporated as a nonprofit in Madison, Wisconsin.  The following year, the Lucy Burns Institute introduced WikiFOIA, a state government-focused resource designed “to harness local knowledge in an effort to empower citizens seeking information from government entities.”

For Graves, Burns was a role model:

In her work to advocate the cause of ‘votes for women” [Burns] organized. lobbied, wrote, edited, traveled, marched, spoke, rallied and picketed…..She knew that being able to participate in a democracy by voting was an essential way to express our human dignity.  For this goal, she was willing to fight and suffer.  In a small way, we like to think our work carries on the spirit of Lucy Burns.

In modern America, the barriers to full participation in our democracy aren’t as concrete as the ability to cast a vote.  What can prevent people from fully engaging in today’s political process is when it is difficult to find accurate, comprehensive information about election laws, politicians, candidates and elections.  LBI’s goal is to help solve that problem for all three branches of government, at all three levels of government.”

Today the Lucy Burns Institute is a thriving resource, still shaped on the vision of Lucy Burns, modernized by Leslie Graves, the LBI board and staff – and user feedback.  The principles of LBI are simple, straightforward and inviolable:

  • The truth is not partisan.
  • People seek truth and use it in positive, powerful, and unforeseen ways.
  • Informed voters are the foundation of democracy. Positive change starts with them.
  • Democratic self-governance is not the work of a day; it requires optimism, persistence, and the long view.
  • The online environment is an extraordinary opportunity to reach voters with comprehensive facts, information, and content.

Among recent projects that expand the outreach and information access of LBI:

  • Ballotpedia is an online wiki with information about elections, Congress, state executive officials, state legislatures, recall elections and ballot measures.
  • Judgepedia is another wiki about America’s courts and judges.
  • Policypedia is an online guide to public policy information including energy policy, education policy, public pension policy, state budgets and electoral reform

Lucy Burns, unstoppable activist, lives on in the spirit of the Institute that bears her name.   Equipped with 21st Century tools LBI expands the very definition of access to information by and about the government – all three branches, all three levels.

Those who share that vision and sense of purpose might celebrate the 135th birthday of the indefatigable Lucy Burns by spending quality time exploring the robust, state-of-the-art, unique resources of the Lucy Burns Institute that keeps her story alive and today’s voters informed.

Lucy Burns Institute

301 South Bedford Street, Suite 6

Madison, WI 53703

info@lucyburns.org

info@lucyburns.org