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Safe Voting Machines for the 2020 presidential election


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


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.

Agenda Initiative dismissal appealed


n appeal was filed Mondaay, August 14, 2017, in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas contesting the County Solicitor's disallowance of a proposed ordinance that could ultimately result in new voting machines for Allegheny County in time for the 2020 presidential election.   Nearly 700 County voters' signatures which accompanied the ordinance proposal were determined to be valid, with 500 signatures needed for the Agenda Initiative's acceptance.   County Council Chief Clerk Jared Barker said that everything else was in order too, but he disallowed the submission because the ordinance failed the County Solicitor's legal review.   The appeal challenges the Solicitor's conclusions and asks the court to order its immediate submission to County Council for its consideration and vote.   On August 22, 2017, Judge Joseph James scheduled oral argument and an evidentiary hearing for 10am, October 20, 2017.

Attorney Ronald L. Hicks, Jr., Esquire of the law firm Meyer, Unkovic & Scott filed the appeal on behalf of OpenPittsburgh.Org, the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP), and three individuals who had participated with the signing and submission of the required signatures.   OpenPittsburgh.Org was responsible for the creation and writing of the ordinance in consultation with several people having expertise in cybersecurity, computer operating systems, and voting system issues.

The proposed Ordinence would create a Voting Process Review Commission of 10 members and 3 alternates who are to review the County's voting process.   Three of the members and one alternate are to have computer expertise, with 2 of the voting members being cybersecurity security experts certified by an accredited cybersecrity agency.   Two voting members and one alternate are to be nominated by organizations concerned with voter protection and voting concerns.   Two voting members and one alternate are to be nominated by organizations whose primary purpose is providing support or services for the disabled or representing their interests.   The remaining three are selected by elected officials, possibly from among themselves.

The Commission is to review the current voting process, evaluating the continued viability of the existing election equipment and making its recommendations about the County's voting practices to the County Board of Elections.   If the voting system needs to be replaced, which is anticipated, the Commission is to evaluate the available voting equipment to determine the optimum system for the County.   After the release of the Commission's final report, which would follow its preliminary report and a series of public hearings spread around the County, the Council would place a referendum question on the County election ballot for the electorate to approve or disapprove acquisition of the optimum system.

The goal is to have the new optimum voting system be approved by the voters and be in place and ready for use in time for the 2020 presidential election.   Before that can happen, the ordinance needs to be introduced to County Council and be approved without undue delay in order for the Commission to perform its duties and for County Council to appropriate and allocate or otherwise arrange for adequate funding to implement the Commission findings.

As a fallback, Pittsburgh City Council will be holding a public hearing August 30th at 2pm in City Council Chambers to receive public comment about it placing a referendum question on the next available City election ballot which, if approved by the voters, would mandate the County replace the current voting machines used in the City with new voting equipment for every City polling place.