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Safe Voting Machines for the 2020 presidential election

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penPittsburgh.Org spent 2017 working to have obsolete, insecure voting machines replaced with a new paper-backed voting system.   In consultation with cybersecurity and computer experts and with input from voting rights advocates, OpenPittsburgh.Org prepared an ordinance that would create an expert Voting System Review Commission which would determine the best system for the County to acquire.   A similar ordinance was passed unanimously in 2006, the difference being that it was purely advisory, whereas the current proposed ordinance would instead put a referendum on the ballot by which the County electorate could either approve or disapprove its acquisition.

Unfortunately, the intransigence of the Allegheny County administration forced OpenPittsburgh.Org to take legal action after our proposed ordinance was submitted to County Council through Agenda Initiative and the County Solicitor blocked County Council from even considering it.   Since holding a hearing on October 20, 2017, Judge Joseph James held his 3.5 page decision against us until the last day to file for the Spring primary.   We filed an appeal at 3:40pm on Monday, March, 26th, -- we need your support now!

That brings matters to the next step for 2018, which involves approaching the issue at the municipal level.   The Election Code provides that any municipality can put a referendum on its local ballot to "authorize and direct the use of" the voting system used in its polling places.   All that is needed is a resolution of its governing body or submission of a petition with signatures equal in number to at least 10% of those voting in the previous election.   For a typical election nearly half of Allegheny County's 130 municipalities would need only the required minimum of 50 signatures.   You can obtain a petition to use in your municipality upon request by contacting OpenPittsburgh.Org.

Open Government Amendment to the Pittsburgh City Charter

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n 2016, OpenPittsburgh.Org managed to obtain enough signatures to place a comprehensive City Charter Amendment on the fall ballot after acquiring a federal injunction that enabled using professional canvassers to collect petition signatures.   However, the Mayor's Chief of Staff objected and sought to have the Amendment removed from the ballot.   Though the objections were filed well beyond the mandatory challenge period, nonetheless, Judge Joseph James rejected 70 years of case law and allowed the objections to stand, then withheld his ruling in the expedited case until over two weeks later, issuing it just two days before the ballots were sent to the printer, making a successful appeal virtually impossible.

While being removed from the ballot was at first a huge disappointment, we quickly recognized it created a tremendous opportunity.   Despite the Mayor's statements of support for open government to the contrary, we could clearly see we would be ill-advised to expect the administration to implement the Open Government Amendment effectively if it were ratified.   We can now revise the Amendment, splitting it into two referendum questions, the second being to establish a new, independent Open Government Office with a non-partisan elected director.   The new office would be responsible for implementing the City's new Open Government requirements; for establishing a citywide Citizen Advisory Panel; and for providing the support needed to ensure effective proactive public participation -- all of which in the Amendment's earlier versions was to have been the responsibility of the mayor.

You can get involved and help with drafting the final provisions for the new Open Government Office by contacting OpenPittsburgh.Org today.

Pittsburgh Open Government Amendment

Synopsis

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ew Article 6 -- The Amendment deletes the present Article 6: Community Advisory Boards which is now irrelevant because City Council abolished all of the City's Community Advisory Boards, effective December 31, 2000.   In its place, the Amendment will substitute a new Article 6: Open Government which expands upon the recent Open Data legislation passed by City Council, providing greater opportunities for public participation in the governance of the city, including an ability for individuals to be notfied about legislative and administrative actions before they occur and assuring that Council and the Mayor give more attention to resident's input.

Better notification -- Individuals will be able to sign up to be notified any time that anything the city is doing would have an impact upon something of interest to them.   By identifying those matters which are of concern, when legislation is marked up before introduction or an administrative action is catagorized, the City computers would notify all those who indicated they want to be notified.

More Public Participation -- Possibly the most impressive part of the amendment is its creation of a new public participation body.   Called a Citizen Advisory Panel, virtually any city resident, property owner, business operator, or taxpayer can participate at any time, provided they don't have a conflict of interest.   This body will have the ability to obtain information and ask questions of City departments; it can communicate directly with Council or the administration; and it can develop presentations on matters relevant to the City which both Council and the Mayor will be required to attend and listen to.

Comprehensive approach --There are a number of more mundane matters such as standards and requirements for information handling, public meetings and hearings, disclosure, etc.   All in all, the amendment is a complete package of provisions designed to ensure better communication between the people of Pittsburgh and their government.

The complete text is available as a PDF file to download or view online.