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What’s New in Civic Tech: CfA Makes Election Day a Holiday

Plus, Pew suggests the essential elements of all good online legal assistance portals, Boston is looking for a legislative information management system to support inclusivity in public meetings, and more.

Code for America (CfA) — the nation’s pre-eminent civic tech organization — has declared Election Day a staff holiday, giving anyone who works for the organization the day off to go vote.

CfA CEO Amanda Renteria made the announcement this week with a post on its site, writing that “we’ve decided to join hundreds of other organizations and companies in making Election Day a staff holiday at Code for America.” Renteria went on to describe how the act of voting is an inherent part of CfA’s decade-long mission to change government systems in a way that makes them capable of better serving individuals.

Renteria went on to note that the United States is one of only nine Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries that hold elections on weekdays, with the reason being that we are following a law that dates back to 1845. Of those nine countries, two make their election day a national holiday so that more people can go vote. In the 2016 presidential election, less than 56 percent of voters cast a ballot. 

CfA’s commitment to voting goes past the holiday as well, with the organization’s national Brigade Network having identified voting rights as one of its priority areas for 2020, and as Renteria notes, the group is also partnering with to “keep voter information accurate and up-to-date in a constantly changing environment.”

Part of the thinking behind making election day a staff holiday is that it will make it easier for employees to vote and also to serve as Election Day poll workers in their individual communities. 

Pew Trusts has shared a new fact sheet aimed at helping in the creation of legal assistance portals by listing a set of essential elements to be included.

Civic technologists who build legal assistance tools should include four vital elements, Pew reports, with those elements being the abilities to ask, refine, learn and connect. Obviously, these are broad terms, and so the fact sheet goes on to provide specific guidance as to what all each of them entails.

Ask means to build in the ability to search by keywords, as well as natural language processing that allows users to ask questions the way they might type or talk. Refine means that these portals should be able to provide guided interviews or refining questions to narrow down what on the portal may be of the most help to users. Learn means delivering relevant legal information and doing it in multiple formats to make it more accessible, including both text and video. Finally, connect means ultimately making referrals to the legal assistance groups and mechanisms that are most relevant and helpful to individual users. 

This list of essential elements grew from a Pew analysis project that looked at a set of 15 publicly available statewide multi-issue legal assistance portals. Those portals are all relevant to their individual states, the list of which includes Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Vermont. 

Boston RFP Seeks Management System to Support Participation in Public Meetings

Boston is interested in offering a legislative information management system that would support open and inclusive participation in its municipal public forums.

To do so, Boston has posted a new RFP, the deadline for which is Friday, Sept. 4. The system that the city is looking for would be cloud-based, and it would replace two existing systems. Interested parties can place bids through the posted RFP.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.