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Haiti, 1919

Crucifixion de Charlemagne Péralte pour la LibertéFrom Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Tragedy of Haiti, 1993:

“The leader of the revolt [against the U.S. invasion], Charlemagne Péralte, was killed by Marines who sneaked into his camp at night in disguise. In an attempt at psywar that prefigured some of Colonel Edward Lansdale’s later exploits in the Philippines, the Marines circulated photos of his body in the hope of demoralizing the guerrillas. The tactic backfired, however; the photo resembled Christ on the cross, and became a nationalist symbol. Péralte took his place in the nationalist Pantheon alongside of Toussaint.”


The photograph was immortalized in 1948 by Philome Obin in his painting, Crucifixion de Charlemagne Péralte pour la Liberté.

>  24 March 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

GIS and the City

On February 6th, 2004, Al Leidner, former head of New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications GIS Program, spoke to members of GISMO about the future of geographic information systems in New York City.

A version of this program was originally presented to the Municipal Data Processing Council. I’ve combined my own notes below with those taken by James Labate.

The GIS Utility: Key Integration of IT

  • GIS marries information technology with the science of geography.
  • The value of information has become the center point of the industry: the quality, amount, and how integrated it is.
  • The technology is there, but the data is lacking. The more combinable data is, the more valuable it becomes. To that effect, the “stove piping” of information is a massive problem.
  • From Data to Wisdom: Increasing the value of data should be the goal of the GIS Community.
  • The “Where Field” - Geography as an ancient science vs. IT as a new industry. GIS people need to bring geography to IT people.
  • We’re still in the early stages of understanding the integration of data. But all data is spatially enabled and therefore can be combined. For example, an automated mapping application can plot a database of 500,000 tree locations off of building and other feature locations.
  • Five basic fields on NYCmap, the City government-maintained basemap, are: postal address, latitude and longitude, street segment, parcel, and building. These are all related and identified with a unique ID.

How Do We Create Value?

  • With a “critical mass” of data support to NYCmap.
  • The Department of Health used a “critical mass” of West Nile identifiers (e.g. infected birds) to created a predictive model of West Nile Disease. (A series of maps were shown depicting the spread of the virus.) Using the maps, they could quickly spray selected areas. Human cases are preempted. Predict death and stop it. GIS can save lives.
  • In 9/11, the NYC Office of Emergency Management lost its office and data when the towers collapsed. Responders to the disaster needed combinations of data. GISMO volunteers and others provided data to responders from an ad-hoc office at Pier 92. Speed and ability to deal with complex interactions were key features.
  • City’s 311 non-emergency hotline uses a GIS engine which geocodes all data that is taken in. With this, can look for patterns and trends in neighborhoods. (Do trash dumping complaints predict a rise in crime?) The City recently mapped cell phone outages using survey info from 311 and the DoITT Web site.
  • My Neighborhood Statistics at nyc.gov, and CMAP’s myCiti expand the knowledge of GIS among non-GIS professionals.
  • 40 City, 35 State Agencies create knowledge from GIS data. (See notes on Al’s GIS Coordination Program).

New Developments

  • Massive sewer and water system mapping project underway.
  • Dept. of City Planning releases geosupport desktop application.
  • COGIS - developing better property tax lot outlines.
  • Homeland security driving Federal, Local GIS integration.
  • FDNY, EMS, NYPD integrating exchange of data for emergency response, sharing with State, FBI.
  • Modeling building and subway systems for emergency response. 468 stations in MTA. PATH and Amtrak next.
  • Aerial photos, from Pictometry, show all sides of every building in NYC. Free to City agencies.

Opposing the Future - Roadblocks to Progress

  • Underfunded IT and GIS.
  • Little understanding of the transformative process of IT.
  • Contempt for Planning - Outmoded stereotyping.

Cultural Evolution

  • What are the combinations of data across service and agency barriers that produce results?
  • What are the analytic and predictive tools that can do it?
  • Combine all capital projects - see where there are synergies, opportunities to overcome problems.

Benefits

  • Revenue: better use of geography will create a higher level of billing accuracy, increasing City revenues.

Public Safety

  • Develop an integrated 911. Fire Dept. and Police should be working off the best geocoding system possible to improve response time, plot fastest routes to sites.
  • CompSTAT - Police Dept. Application - GIS saving lives. Info and analysis brought together with new way of organizing. (See this BBC article on mapping crime.)
  • Hazardous materials and combustibles: combination of previously uncombined data to give firefighters more information before entering a building.

Predictions

  • Every City agency will have GIS. Wireless connections to data applications from sites.
  • 500% staffing increase in City GIS Personnel.
  • Federal Govt. will need and seek out state and local data as it is more accurate and of a higher quality.
  • Spatially enabled information will be the foundation of a 35% increase in productivity and 2% increase in revenues.
  • All City strategic data will be available and the increase of shared valuable information will increase social cohesion and collaboration.
  • Construction time will be reduced 10% and construction costs reduced 5%.
  • Predictive models will reduce violent crime by another 50%.

Al noted that more and more City data is available online, though many in audience noted felt that the City does not share enough of its data. NYCMap is not available to the public for “security reasons,” but is licensed to a couple of Universities and corporations under strict terms.

See also “City Governments Map Trends”¬†from Wired, February 1, 2004, and this 2002 interview with Al about GIS and the emergency response on September 11, 2001.

>  7 March 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

NYC Recycles Glass Again

In case you missed it, yesterday Mayor Bloomberg and the Sanitation Commissioner announced that the City will resume recycling glass and return to weekly recycling collections on April 1.

Glass and plastic recycling was suspended in July 2002 as a “cost-cutting measure.” It turned out that mixing recyclable materials with the regular waste stream did not actually save much money. And, when they found out that others were willing to pay for the City’s recyclables, the City resumed the collections. Bi-weekly plastic recycling resumed July 2003.

See this previous blog post from July 2003.

Huzzah!

>  6 March 2004 | LINK | Filed in ,

Banned in Translation

From Democracy Now!:

“The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control recently declared that American publishers cannot edit works authored in nations under trade embargoes which include Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Cuba.

Although publishing the articles is legal, editing is a ‘service’ and the treasury department says it is illegal to perform services for embargoed nations. It can be punishable by fines of up to a half-million dollars or jail terms as long as 10 years.

Robert Bovenschulte, president of the publications division of the American Chemical Society, which decided this week decided to challenge the government and risk criminal prosecution by editing articles submitted from the five embargoed nations.”

From the Treasury Department itself:

“As you know, the importation from any country and the exportation to any country of information and informational materials, whether commercial or otherwise, regardless of format or medium of transmission, are exempt from the Iranian Transactions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 560 (the ITR). ITR, § 560.210(c)....

Nevertheless, certain activities described in your letter would fall outside of the information and informational materials exemption. The collaboration on and editing of manuscripts submitted by persons in Iran, including activities such as the reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons, prior to publication, may result in a substantively altered or enhanced product, and is therefore prohibited under ITR § 560.204 unless specifically licensed.”

Boy is this ever crying out for civil disobedience from all of us bloggers. I’m not sure if republishing or translating information off the Web is covered by this (since it’s accessible anyway), but posting translations of otherwise published or unpublished material probably would be.

Let the Office of Foreign Assets Control know about it at [email protected]. To complain to the Department of Justice about the issue email [email protected].

Via the Project Censored and Juan Cole

>  4 March 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , ,

Whose Streets?

Drapetomaniac sends a link to this video clip of an interview with Casey Blake. Professor Blake is

“currently working on three book-length projects: Public Art and the Civic Imagination in Contemporary America... an edited volume titled The Arts of Democracy: Art, Civic Culture, and The State... and a collection of essays on the culture and politics of the 1970s.”

I’ve transcribed the clip below.

“In the early and mid-1960’s, the Federal Government initiated two significant programs for funding public art in the United States, and these programs in effect became the leaders in the public art field in this country during the 60’s and 70’s and in some ways beyond.

The first of these was the Art and Architecture Program of the General Services Administration which sponsors public art installations inside and outside federal office buildings and courthouses. And, the second is the Art in Public Places Program of the National Endowment for the Arts which was founded in 1965.

Both of these programs were very much the creation of liberals in the Kennedy administration and after that in the Johnson administration, and also within the Rockefeller wing of the Republican party. And, I think that the architects of these programs were all men who were steeped in European culture. They were knowledgeable about the history of European art and European Modernism in particular, and they wanted to see the United States — now a military and economic power — come of age as a kind of artistic power in the world and produce artwork that could bear comparison to the great works of high European Modernism.

CalderThese were also anti-Communists and they believed that federally sponsored public art programs, and arts programs generally, could play a role in furthering the mission of the United States in its global campaign against the Soviet bloc, in large part by holding up the artistic achievements of the United States as an example of what a civilization devoted to individual freedom was capable of producing, and then, finally, a program that attempted to remake American cities along modernist lines.

I think that when you look at the federal programs that sponsored public art installations in the United States beginning in the mid-1960’s, and then developing further in the late 60’s and early 70’s, you see that these programs were all inspired by a set of assumptions and by a notion of cultural authority that came under attack almost immediately after these programs were put into place. In particular, the notion that artistic decisions and decisions about the uses and design of public spaces should be best left to experts, in particular experts in the visual arts, came under attack almost immediately first from the political left, in many cases from the political right, but I think more broadly from a kind of popular revolt at the local level. I think that on the whole, those people who were angry about public art in this period, in the 70’s and 80’s were asking a vitally important question, namely, ‘What was “public” about them? Who was the public that was going to decide what public art was going to appear in public spaces?’

I think that beyond the question of ‘who decides what art should appear in public spaces?’ and ‘what makes it public?’, the protests of the 1970’s had to do with questions about the fate of the American city in this period. In the 1960’s public art was very explicitly linked to a program of urban renewal that promised a kind of modernist revitalization and redesign of American cities. By the mid-1970’s with the fiscal crisis of American cities setting in in earnest, I think it became very difficult to believe that public art on its own could somehow remake urban culture. More to the point that you see beginning in the 70’s and certainly continuing through the 80’s, a kind of backlash against the idea of urban renewal that had been promulgated after World War II that relied so heavily on the bulldozing of traditional neighborhoods and their replacement by modernist forms of planning and architecture. So in many ways, by the mid-to-late 1970’s public art installations no longer seem like these vehicles of urban revitalization, but rather seem like the most visible symbols of a liberal urban project that had gone terribly wrong.”

>  5 February 2004 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Serve and Protect

From AP, August 26, 2002:Police Car

Florida police cars to sport corporate logos

“SPRINGFIELD, Fla. — This Florida Panhandle town is getting new police cars for only $1 each, but there’s a catch. The cars will be festooned with corporate sponsorship logos similar to those on race cars.

City commissioners voted 4-0 Thursday to accept the deal with Charlotte, N.C.-based Government Acquisitions. The company hopes to provide a new squad car for each of Springfield’s 15 officers within the next three years.

Government Acquisitions partner Ken Allison said advertising on cruisers destined for the Panama City suburb would be toned down.

Police Chief Sam Slay said the city could save about $500,000 over the three-year span.

‘You are talking about $500,000 that can be spent other places in the city, and that’s what this program is for,’ said Mayor Robert Walker.

Slay wants the savings used to hire two more officers, but Commissioner Carl Curti said other departments may need the money. Slay said his department should get to keep use the money instead of being punished for saving it.

Curti also was apprehensive about using the police car budget for other purposes.

‘These free cars may not always be free cars,’ Curti said.”

via American Samizdat

>  22 October 2003 | LINK | Filed in , ,

The Violence of Planning (and Its Resistance)

From Adrian Blackwell and Kanishka Goonewardena, Poverty of Planning: Tent City, City Hall and Toronto’s New Official Plan, in Planners Network, Winter 2003:

Socially vulnerable areas in Toronto“While the [new official plan of the city of Toronto] represents a victory for the ruling classes of Toronto... some of the background documents prepared for the plan reveal traces of a struggle, even within City Hall. Toronto at the Crossroads, for example, includes a crystal clear map of the concentrations of ‘socially vulnerable areas’ in the city. It illustrates the growing economic polarization and pockets of poverty that form a ring running through the outer suburbs and around the inner city. Any reasonable official plan aiming to build a sustainable and equitable urban life would have started with these realities — the majority of existing people in the city — rather than banking on an exodus of dot.com millionaires and other pipe dreams of the ‘knowledge economy.’

The urgent question is this: What will happen to the various socially vulnerable groups in the city whose neighborhoods are either ignored in this plan or earmarked for gentrification?

The plan actually paves the way to remove people from strategic downtown neighborhoods, concentrating poverty in high-density suburban spaces whose reality is deliberately hidden in its three-lens vision. Complementing this violence of eviction is the alienating physical and symbolic violence constantly inflicted on individuals forced to live in these suburban spaces. These have a number of real effects.

  • The physical distance between social classes protects affluent people from the violent power and frustration that economic exploitation creates.

  • The physical separation prevents middle- and upper-class Torontonians from experiencing poverty firsthand, allowing them to indulge a fantasy of equality, while breeding stereotypes about people they don’t have to interact with everyday.

  • Separation organizes the city so that affluent people have much better access to not only luxury goods, but also to essential services like healthy food, a clean environment, healthcare, public transportation, parks, public spaces and jobs.

  • Isolation atomizes the very communities that could otherwise create unified resistance to this alienating condition. One of the lasting legacies of Toronto’s high-density modernist housing is that people are both concentrated and isolated from one another at the same time.

Real separation and isolation are symbolically overcome in the image of the beautiful city. The objective of urban design here is to mask beneath the spectacle of dazzling urban space the potentially explosive realities of the new amalgamated city of developers, taxpayers and global capital.”


The authors are members of Planning Action:

“A group of urban planners, architects and activists who work with diverse communities of Toronto struggling against economic, cultural, and ecological injustice to open spaces for people to imagine, transform, and enjoy the city.”

Their objectives:

  • To collaboratively promote social and environmental justice by planning for affordable housing, food, public transportation, public space and accessible education and recreation for all residents and workers of the city.
  • To democratize planning practice to foster greater participation and control over the creation and maintenance of the city.
  • To build an organization that is committed to radically democratic and socially just practices within its own operation, in its partnerships and collaborations, as well as in the city.

Their work includes:

  • popular education and outreach;
  • planning, design, and advocacy for individuals and communities marginalized from traditional planning and legal systems;
  • promotion of participatory planning that creates alternatives to municipal, competitive, and corporate-driven planning practices; and
  • public comment and criticism of development projects, international trade agreements, and city practices, plans, policy, and processes.
>  18 October 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Design against Corruption

Let’s say the president of your country is corrupt. Let’s just say.

Kenya: Urban Bribery IndexThe legislature is corrupt. The court system, police, and military are all corrupt. The city officials? The big businesses? They’re corrupt, too.

They misuse their power. They thrive on favoritism and get rich on kickbacks while the rest the country slowly starves. What do you do?

Replacing one individual with another doesn’t change the broader system or take away any of the incentives for corruption.

So how do you reduce corruption throughout a given system?

Transparency International is a network of independent national chapters that work to curb “both the supply and demand of corruption.”

Some of the strategies they use are described in their annual Corruption Fighters’ Tool Kit. The manual is just one of the ways the TI chapters share ideas with each other and offer their experience to the world at large. In addition to the hard work of organizing and building coalitions, many of the corruption-reducing strategies incorporate graphic and interactive design. Some of them include:

  • Awareness Raising - TI Korea produced posters, videos, and CD-ROMs to disseminate information about the effects of corruption and local initiatives against it. TI Morocco indexed, cataloged, and analyzed incidents of corruption that appeared in the media, published their findings and will soon make this database accessible online. As part of its campaign to promote access to information in Romania and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, TI Romania produced and actively updated a Web site on the issue, printed a pocket guide to inform citizens about their rights, and designed posters and flyers with their Serbian partner organization to promote the idea of free access to public information and raise public awareness about the project. The posters were printed in Romanian and Serbian and distributed through an international network of NGOs and local government offices.

  • Lebanon Construction Permit ManualMonitoring Election Campaigns - TI Chile developed and distributed a report card to tabulate the quantity, subject, and context of media coverage devoted to each candidate. They distributed their analysis and data on CD-ROM.

  • Opening Processes - Activists in Lebanon determined that construction was the most corrupt sector in the country and designed a manual on how to acquire a construction permit, “one of the most difficult bureaucratic transactions in the Lebanese administration.” In response to the government’s lack of reliable information on the process of public procurement, TI Ecuador created an Web site to inform the public (and the private sector), make government forms available, display past and current bidding processes, and host a forum for discussion and analysis.

  • Implementing Diagnostics - TI chapters in Bangladesh, Kenya, and Japan developed surveys and metrics for corruption in government and the private sector that they then published locally. TI Lithuania created a database of institutional and geographic aspects of corruption and published a “Map of Corruption” as a foundation for future campaign work.
>  16 October 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , ,

Captions, Television and its Double

The year 1960 marks a turning point in the history of technology and politics. The Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate was the first to be broadcast live on television. Kennedy’s telegenic composure and appeal is credited with tipping the vote in his favor. In 1960 ninety percent of U.S. households owned a television. For the first time, Americans in 1963 say that they get more of their news from television than newspapers. Television becomes an increasingly important source of information and enormous cultural force in the United States marking the assassination of President Kennedy, the rise of the Beatles, landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth, I Love Lucy, Sesame Street, the Olympics, news of the war in Viet Nam, the Watergate hearings, the Watts riot, Star Trek, and the mini-series Roots. [source]

However, it would be at least another decade before millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans could begin to participate.


From the National Captioning Institute:

Closed Captioned“The first innovators were not thinking about a captioning system for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. In 1970 the [U.S.] National Bureau of Standards began to investigate the possibility of using a portion of the network television signal to send precise time information on a nationwide basis. The Bureau believed that it could send digitally encoded information in a part of the television signal that is not used for picture information. The ABC-TV network agreed to cooperate. This project didn’t work, but ABC suggested that it might be possible to send captions instead.

This led to a preview of captioning at the First National Conference on Television for the Hearing Impaired in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1971. Two possible technologies for captioning television programs were demonstrated that would display the captions only on specially equipped sets for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.

A second demonstration of closed captioning was held at Gallaudet College on February 15, 1972. ABC and the National Bureau of Standards presented closed captions embedded within the normal broadcast of Mod Squad.

As a result of the enthusiasm these demonstrations created in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, the National Association of Broadcasters studied the technical and economic factors involved in establishing a captioning service. The Association concluded that this captioning system was technically possible, but certain steps had to be taken before it could become a reality. The federal government then said it would fund the development and testing of this system. The engineering department of the Public Broadcasting System started to work on the project in 1973 under contract to the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW).

While the closed-captioning service was being developed, there were some programs with ‘open’ captions airing on PBS. In 1971, The French Chef became the very first television program that was accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. The ABC News was rebroadcast on PBS five hours after its broadcast on ABC-TV. From the time the captioned ABC News was first produced in 1973, it was the only timely newscast accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing people until NCI’s real-time captioning service started in 1982....

Toward the end of the technical development project at PBS, it became clear that in order to get the cooperation of the commercial television networks, it would be necessary to establish a nonprofit, single-purpose organization to perform this captioning. And so in 1979, HEW announced the creation of the National Captioning Institute. The mission and importance of NCI was clear from the beginning. It was to promote and provide access to television programs for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community through the technology of closed captioning.

On March 16, 1980, NCI broadcast the first, closed-captioned television series. The captions were seen in households that had the first generation of closed caption decoder.

A silence had been broken. For the first time ever, deaf people across America could turn on their television sets — with a caption decoder — and finally understand what they had been missing on television.

The closed-captioned television service was an overnight sensation. Suddenly, thousands of people who had been living in a world of silence could enjoy television programs along with hearing people....

NCI ensured a bright future for closed-captioned television by partnering with ITT Corporation in 1989 to develop the first caption-decoding microchip, which could be built directly into new television sets at the manufacturing stage. This led to the introduction and subsequent passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act, which mandated that, by mid-1993, all new television sets 13 inches or larger manufactured for sale in the U.S. must contain caption-decoding technology. Now, millions of people have access to captions with the push of a button on their remote controls.”

From a more recent Captioning FAQ:

“On August 7, 1997, the FCC unanimously approved new regulations which will mandate captioning on virtually all television programming in the United States. Section 305 of the Telecommunication Act of 1996 is being implemented as a new section (Section 713) of the existing Communications Act. On September 17, 1998, the FCC modified their rules, in what can be considered a victory for caption viewers. The ruling took effect on January 1st, 1998, and it phases in requirements separately for ‘old’ and ‘new’ programming.”


Though numerous studies have shown that mixed-case text is easier to read than all uppercase, virtually all captioning in North America is done in uppercase only. The resolution of NCSA television and caption decoders generally results in ugly and illegible lowercase letters.

“[However,] mixed-case text is often used to indicate whispering, and is also often used for text that needs to be set apart, such as comments by an off-screen announcer (voice-over), or sound effects.

Caption decoders and televisions were not required by law to support lowercase letters at all until just a few years ago. There are, therefore, some televisions that will change mixed-case text to all uppercase.” [source]


Now, with the introduction of digital television, the design of the typeface for subtitling is no longer constrained by the technology of analog television.

This new digital environment provides for larger screens, higher screen resolutions, enhanced closed captions, and higher transmission data rates for closed-captioning.

TiresiasEnter Tiresias Screenfont, a typeface for television subtitling designed for maximum legibility. Development of the typeface included extensive user testing with viewers that had a wide range of visual abilities and viewing habits.

The Tiresias Screenfont was originally designed by a team led by Dr. John Gill, Chief Scientist for the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

“The typeface Tiresias Screenfont was originally designed for subtitling on UK digital television in 1998.... It has been specifically designed for screen display and has been adopted by the UK Digital Television Group as the resident font for interactive television. Screenfont is now being adopted for European digital television. Its use is also being considered in the USA.

Tiresias Screenfont has been designed to have characters that are easy to distinguish from each other. The design was carried out, with specific reference to persons with visual impairments, on the philosophy that good design for visually impaired persons is good design for everybody.”


Both font and philosophy have been taken from the television screen and applied to the public terminal, the built environment, and the printed page.

Other variations of Tiresias Screenfont have since been designed, each optimized for a specific purpose:

Tiresias PCfont is a typeface designed to display clearly on screen based systems, such the information displayed on TV monitors on public transport, at airports, railways or ferry terminals. Building societies and banks use screens to display information on cash dispensers. Many governments are now introducing screen-based public information systems in libraries and government offices. Tiresias PCfont makes these services and facilities more accessible.

Tiresias Infofont is designed to improve the legibility of information labels on public access terminals, ticket machines, telephone booths. The characters and letterforms have been designed to provide maximum legibility at a reading distance of around 30 to 100 cm. Infofont is not designed for large quantities of text.

Tiresias Signfont is for fixed (not internally illuminated) signage. The recommended usage is white or yellow characters on a dark background. Tiresias Signfont has a different level of boldness than Screenfont and PCfont, and has more open spacing than conventional type. Signfont is designed to provide maximum readability at longer distances.

Tiresias LPfont is designed for use in large print publications, and to be more legible than the standard typefaces that are currently in large print publications.

The Tiresias family of fonts are available for sale from Bitstream.


Update October 1, 2003: A couple of hard-of-hearing friends have brought up the petition campaigns that they, their friends, and parents participated in. The text above does understate the grassroots campaign.

>  21 September 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , ,

Recall Design

On September 15, 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling and ordered the California gubernatorial recall election postponed.

Whitney Quesenbery, Director of Outreach, of the Usability Professionals’ Association Voting and Usability project has posted some selected excerpts from the text of the decision relating to design, voting systems, effectiveness, and usability:

“In this case, Plaintiffs allege that the fundamental right to have votes counted in the special recall election is infringed because the pre-scored punchcard voting systems used in some California counties are intractably afflicted with technologic dyscalculia. They claim that the propensity for error in these voting systems is at least two and a half times greater than for any other voting technology used in California. The effect is not trivial....

Voting InstructionsThese counties [using the old machines] comprise 44% of the total electorate. They include the most populous county in the State and the county in which the state capitol is located.

Plaintiffs tendered evidence showing that 40,000 voters who cast ballots in these counties would not have their votes counted because of technological defects in the pre-scored punchcard voting system. It is perhaps ironic that the sitting governor could well cast a vote on his own recall that would not be tallied. Many candidates seeking to replace him would face a similar risk. Plaintiffs also allege that the affected counties contain a significantly higher percentage of minority voters than the other counties, causing a disproportionate disenfranchisement of minority voters....

Plaintiffs argue that the use of defective voting systems creates a substantial risk that votes will not be counted. In addition, they claim that the use of defective voting systems in some counties and the employment of far more accurate voting systems in other counties denies equal protection of the laws by impermissibly diluting voting strength of the voters in counties using defective voting systems. In short, the weight given to votes in non-punchcard counties is greater than the weight given to votes in punchcard counties because a higher proportion of the votes from punchcard counties are thrown out. Thus, the effect of using punchcard voting systems in some, but not all, counties, is to discriminate on the basis of geographic residence....

No voting system is foolproof, of course, and the Constitution does not demand the use of the best available technology. However, what the Constitution does require is equal treatment of votes cast in a manner that comports with the Equal Protection Clause. Like the Supreme Court in Bush, “[t]he question before [us] is not whether local entities, in the exercise of their expertise, may develop different systems for implementing elections.” 531 U.S. at 109. Rather, like the Supreme Court in Bush, we face a situation in which the United States Constitution requires “some assurance that the rudimentary requirements of equal treatment and fundamental fairness are satisfied.”...

Independent research confirms the error difference between pre-scored punchcard systems and others in use. The July 2001 Report of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project (“Caltech-MIT Report”) studied the residual vote rates of different voting systems from 1988-2000 in the entire country, and found that punchcards lose significantly more votes than optically scanned paper ballots.

The district court discounted the impact of voting systems on the special election, relying in part on the Secretary of State’s attestation that he would “be undertaking extensive voter education efforts that could have the effect of lowering the residual rate in the upcoming election.” However, Plaintiffs effectively countered this unsupported assertion with statistical evidence showing that voter education was ineffective in counteracting the error rates inherent in the use of prescored punchcard voting systems....

Further, as we shall discuss later, the Secretary of State has already missed statutory deadlines for submitting educational information to voters concerning the initiatives on the ballot....

The State has an interest in holding a fair election - one trusted by the candidates and the voters to yield an accurate and unbiased result. The high error rate associated with the decertified machines to be used by 44 percent of the voters in October would undermine the public’s confidence in the outcome of the election. The margin of victory could well be less than the margin of error in the use of punchcard technology. This would not be the case in an election held in March 2004, when all the obsolete machines will have been totally withdrawn from use. Avoiding an election that promises to dilute the votes of any particular community - let alone communities with a disproportionately high concentration of minority voters - firmly promotes the public interest in a fair election....

There are also some unique pragmatic problems associated with this election that may be alleviated by a short postponement. For example, because of the short timetable established for this election, approximately a quarter of California’s polling places - 5,000 of 20,000 - will not be ready for use and voters will be forced to vote at a different polling place. This has the potential of creating substantial voter confusion on election day. Further, the sheer number of gubernatorial candidates — there are currently 135 names on the October 2003 ballot — will make operation of the plastic guide substantially more cumbersome to use, potentially compounding the inherent problems in its use....

In addition to the public interest factors we have discussed, we would be remiss if we did not observe that this is a critical time in our nation’s history when we are attempting to persuade the people of other nations of the value of free and open elections. Thus, we are especially mindful of the need to demonstrate our commitment to elections held fairly, free of chaos, with each citizen assured that his or her vote will be counted, and with each vote entitled to equal weight. A short postponement of the election will accomplish those aims and reinforce our national commitment to democracy....

A desire for speed is not a general excuse for ignoring equal protection guarantees.”

>  16 September 2003 | LINK | Filed in , ,



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