Voter ID and Civic Innovation

Since 2008, there has been a wave of voting law changes that impose barriers to the ballot box. Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of “Bloody Sunday,” called the new laws “the most concerted effort to restrict the right to vote since before the Voting Rights Act.”

The right to vote is being chiseled away by voter ID laws that require voters to show government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

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In December, the Department of Justice blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law on the grounds it would make it harder for minorities to vote in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Mississippi and Texas voting ID laws also must be pre-cleared but Texas is not waiting. The Lone Star State filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to speed up a decision.

Strict photo ID requirements will be in place in at least five states – Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin — In November. With Election Day less than nine months away, voters without an official photo ID cannot wait for the challenges to play out at the Justice Department and in the courts.

In Wisconsin, for instance, voters must navigate “The 4 Proofs.”

I am a founding member of the Election Protection Coalition. Still, looking at the infographic makes my head hurt. More worrisome, it discourages voters from completing the application process. So I presented the problem of TMI (read: disenfranchisement by design) at Random Hacks of Kindness and the Hackathon for Social Good. Citizen programmers developed solutions to quickly provide voters with information on how to get a voter ID.

During Social Week Washington, DC, I gave a demo of the Cost of Freedom web-based app developed by Kin Lane, API Evangelist for CityGrid.

Users in Wisconsin can forget about “The 4 Proofs.” Instead, in four clicks or less, they will be able to access information about the state’s voter ID requirements, how to obtain a certified copy of their birth certificate (the document that’s typically produced to establish one’s identity), and the location, hours and directions to the Office of Vital Records using public transit.

I also gave a live demo of the Cost of Freedom text-based app developed by Jack Aboutboul, Twilio’s API Evangelist. Twilio is making an in-contribution of text message services to promote voter education.

To commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we plan to launch the Cost of Freedom App on April 4, 2012.

I will post regular updates about the Cost of Freedom Project and other initiatives that are using civic innovation to protect the right to vote. The conversation about voter ID also gives us an opportunity to raise awareness about disruptive technologies in the public sector beyond election administration.

For more information, please visit us at You can sign up to receive notice when the Cost of Freedom App is launched. Continue reading

Sotomayor and (Supreme) Court TV

The historic swearing in of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor is significant not only in the fact that she is the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court, but also this is the first time that cameras have been allowed in the court for this ceremony. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swore Sotomayor in twice, the first in a private ceremony as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution and a second time before television cameras, friends and family, a first in Supreme Court history.

The various Justices have held differing opinions on whether camers in the courtroom are appropriate. While he was still Supreme Court justice, David Souter (who is replaced by Sonia Sotomayor) discouraged any attempts to broadcast Supreme Court proceedings. He used the “camel’s nose” theory fearing that once they had even the slightest amount of access, the media would soon gain full access to Court proceedings. Justice Souter once told a House Appropriations subcommittee, “that I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.” Justice Sotomayor is of a different opinion.

Chief Justice Roberts has signaled that he may not oppose televised court proceedings. Roberts said during his confirmation hearings that he had an open mind about the issue of cameras in the Supreme Court, a statement that gave advocates new hope after the late Chief Justice Warren Burger’s “over my dead body” opposition and his successor William Rehnquist’s less vehement but still unyielding distaste for the idea.

“Justice Souter going off the court means a vocal opponent is gone,” said C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb, adding that Chief Justice John Roberts may not have wanted to press the issue with Souter there. C-SPAN has long wanted to broadcast proceedings of the court and they may some day now get their wish. “The chief justice who has his hand on the gavel can control any kind of rambunctiousness in which lawyers might want to show off. The public would benefit by seeing this isn’t ‘Judge Judy,’” Lamb said. “The process of writing opinions will never be public. All we’re asking for is the public discussion for one hour. It’s in a public forum, and there’s only 80 of those a year.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, when questioned by Rep. John Culberson (who filmed the statement himself) during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.“On the one hand, of course it would help people see how in some of these difficult issues we struggle with them, as do you.” On the other hand, he continued, “would they know that this is 2 percent of the matter, what they’re seeing, and would they, in fact, understand that most of what we do does not involve the two people in front of us, the lawyers on either side? It involves the 300 million people who are not there physically in the courtroom.” At the Aspen Ideas Festival Justice Stephen Breyer responded to a question about televising oral arguments at the Supreme Court (see video below). He spelled out the two sides position on the issue without giving any support to either position.

I think we will see the Supreme Court televised one day. I look forward to that day…