Tag Archives: Mark Ritchie

Capitol Coders Share Open Government Ideas & Apps

You can’t keep a good Minnesota activist down!  Saturday’s Capitol Code, initiated by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, drew a public-spirited crowd of open government enthusiasts who braved the slipperiest streets in the hemisphere to share ideas, tools and apps.  The free and open event at Uptown Cocoa was well organized by state staffers and Bill Bushey of OpenTC’s.  The buzz of the worker bees at Uptown CoCo offered a lively take on the information chain at work as data and ideas flowed to and from policy makers, data producers, app developers and the public.

It was a chance to view close up,  then reflect upon, the real-time evolution of the two disparate forces:  1) the two-way interaction between the government and the governed and 2) the marriage between information (the content) and communications (the exchange).  Putting these two forces together, it is clear that the challenge du jour is to create conditions that support the constant and mutually supportive role of information and communication technology to effectively achieve the shared goal to serve the public good of a democratic people.

The parallel paths of governance and technology are restructuring the world order as we the people blink in awe. Till now the public has watched the inextricable growth of the information and communications industries.  Policy makers and the massive structures of implementation they have shaped have struggled breathlessly to keep apace while citizens are lost in a sea of acronyms – technical and bureaucratic.

For the corporate world, it’s match between producer and consumer is as obvious as it is profitable.  Unfettered by the intrusion of the vox populi, the unbridled power of wealth swoops in to consummate the marriage made in heaven.  Policy makers concerned about the public good and hamstrung by the slow-moving wheels of government, may find the relationship more problematic.

Tough as it may be, it’s time for the people to get a grip on our unalienable rights and our responsibility to defend those rights.  It’s time to butt in.  Accepting the fact that our forefathers got it right about our democratic government being based on an informed people, we need to keep an eye on how that information flows.  We need to care about how the information resource on which we depend – as individuals and as a nation — is first produced, then made accessible to the voting public in a format that is useful and usable.  That means everything from how the research agenda is determined to the format of the message to the free flow of information to the preservation of the public record.

We need to tend to the sources of information and to the channels of communication.  Above all, we need to hold accountable those charged with establishing and enforcing policy, the elected representatives of the people at every level of government.

The bad news – it’s complicated – obviously, we need to understand the tool.  What’s more, we need to know something about the responsibilities and the power flow among the levels of government.  We also need to be paying attention.

The good news, we don’t all need to understand the intricacies.  There are squadrons of good government organizations that tend to the mechanics.

What we need to do is to keep a critical eye on the process and the watchdogs, including the media, and to hold the system as a whole accountable.   Though nobody said it was easy, the burgeoning crop of hackers who participated in this weekend’s Capitol Code can attest to the fact that it can be a lot of fun!

 

Open Data Jam set for February 22 – Unleashing the power of government information

It’s a lot like spinning straw into gold….transforming dormant information by and about the government into powerful info-tools that people can actually use to solve problems, create new products and services, learn about their community – and hold their government accountable.    It’s happening at the national level (at this week’s Datapalooza launched by the White House) and in vibrant communities around the country.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has announced that his office will host Minnesota’s first statewide mash-up between information mavens and the enormous wealth of public data just waiting to be brought to life.   Capitol Code: An Open Data Jam, is set for Saturday, February 22, at CoCo in Uptown Minneapolis. (http://cocomsp.com/locations/minneapolis/

Participants will have a chance to muck with data ranging from the vast resources of the Bureau of the Census to stashes of state stuff housed in a host of federal, state, regional and local agencies.

Capitol Code is open to citizens, analysts, business and community leaders, designers, government officials, media, software programmers, elected officials, advocates – well, anybody who wants to share ideas, learn – or model – some tricks of the trade, basically find out how to be a agile player in the information game.

The day is free and open.  Active partners in the project include MN.IT, E-Democracy.org, the Minnesota State Demographic Center and community technology groups including Open Twin Cities.

Be on the watch for information to follow through traditional and all the latest social media channels Capitol Code planners have at the ready.   Or call Nathan Bowie at the Secretary of State’s Office 651 297 8919.

Eroson of Voters’ Rights – A Slow Rising Tsunami


The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people.   (Thomas Jefferson)

Over time the founding fathers, women, Native Americans, African Americans, felons who have paid their debt to society have placed great value on the hard won right to vote.  In the wake of the Voting Rights Act the electorate focused on exercising right rights;  good government groups and state officials  moved on, focusing on getting out the vote – voter registration drives, collaboration, poll watches, elimination of barriers ranging from the responsibility of employers to allow workers leave time to accommodations for language or physical impediments to voters’ exercise of their Constitutional right.

That was the calm before the storm.  Today we are experiencing a sea change in voter rights – actually not so much a visible tsunami as a mighty undercurrent that scoops up the debris of race and class – even age – discrimination.   Largely dispersed beneath the relative calm of the electoral process, voter suppression surfaces as “white caps” – primarily state-level initiatives that are, in fact, a determined drive to purge  those whose vote might stem the tide favored by the have’s.

In its waning days the Minnesota Legislature passed the law that places the Voter ID Amendment on the ballot for November.  In spite of valiant efforts on the part of good government groups such as the League of Women Voters, church groups, the AARP and the ACLU – even Jesse Ventura – the Amendment failed to set off storm warnings among the well-credentialed populace.   The subtle campaign to winnow voter ranks was maneuvered in large part by State Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (IR Big Lake) whose years as Secretary State taught her just how to steer the voting process.

At this writing several groups (ACLU, LWV, Jewish Community Action and Common Cause Minnesota) have petitioned the state Supreme Court to strike down the proposed Constitutional Amendment; the opponents argues on the semantic confusion that the ballot question falsely declares that the state will provide free ID to eligible voters.  Far more pernicious is the implicit presumption that the Amendment, if approved by the voters, will threaten hard-won voter rights such as same-day registration and possibly restrict voter registration initiatives.

Precedent abounds.  Aggressive limits in a host of states sound the alarm that voter suppression, clothed in the innocent garb of voter ID, is a driving and coordinated force.  Florida lives up to its justified reputation for election shenanigans, well-earned in the Gore-Bush debacle of 2008.  The ruckus in Florida swirls around the diabolical initiative to halt voter registration drives while 180,000 Floridians have learned from authorities that they are off the roles because they are not citizens.   Though Florida takes the lead in voter suppression it is a bellwether of national campaign that is well-organized, coordinated and financed.  At close view it looks a lot like a tsunami in slow motion.

In truth this is not about voter ID but “electorate cleansing.”  The effort is insidious, implicit, ubiquitous and amorphous.   A serious probe of the depths of the well-orchestrated campaign exposes Minnesota as more of a pawn than a player.  Showing an ID at the polls is not much of a bother for the have’s – until we see it as the tip of an iceberg that shuns the sunshine of an open process.

In Minnesota voter rights supporters can find countless refuges in the storm.  It is useful, if risky, to cite but a few;   — the state and local League of Women Voters have decades of experience and a local presence for voter information and support.  The Voter Participation Project sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits educates and promotes through their network of nonprofit organization. Faith communities are taking action across denomination lines to defend voters’ rights.

As always, the Secretary of State is the pivotal player in organizing and monitoring the electoral process.  Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will launch MCN’s 2012  “Promote the Vote” campaign on Wednesday, June 13, 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Wilder Center, 451 Lexington Avenue North, St. Paul.  Free and open to all.

The FCC is Having a Public Hearing in MN Thursday Evening

Once again The UpTake steps to the plate!  The UpTake crew, mostly volunteers, will be on hand Thursday evening when media moguls, access advocates, journalists, librarians, entrepreneurs, and information mavens of every stripe —  just about anybody who has dipped a toe into the digital world – will gather for a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public hearing on the future of the Internet.  The hearing is Thursday, August 19, 6:00 p.m. in the South High School Auditorium, 3131 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis.

What’s well publicized are the details of the unique hearing  featuring FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn along with locals including i Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and other speakers TBA.  Not so well publicized is the fact that The UpTake will be on site.  TheUpTake will provide live broadcast and will also video the entire event. You can catch the hearing in real time or at your leisure – when the kids go to bed or you get off work.

The hearing is hosted by three national organizations, i.e. Free Press, Main Street Project, and the Center for Media Justice. Through their Media Action Grassroots Project (MAG-net). These are among the national organizations that have lobbied long and hard on a host of pressing issues, most notably network neutrality and broadband access.  The premise of the TC’s hearing is that the big guys have had their say and that the Commission needs to hear from the rest of us.  The fact that Minnesota’s junior Senator has become the poster child for these progressive groups may have influenced the designation of Minneapolis as the one and only Greater-US hearing.

By way of introduction, the Uptake is currently providing great background material, including an overview of the hearing, a talk presented earlier this summer by Commissioner Copps, and an interview with Senator Al Franken, a vocal advocate for network neutrality and access.  You’ll find them all on the Uptake website.