The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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November 7, 2016 12:09 PM

Here’s the good news: The 2016 election is not rigged.

Here’s the bad news: Across the United States, the local officials charged with conducting a free and fair election are facing an unprecedented wave of distrust.

“We have never seen this amount of calls. We spend an inordinate amount of time … responding to people,” Tom Schedler, secretary of state for Louisiana, said in October at the Bipartisan Policy Center, commenting on rigging claims. “There is no validity to that whatsoever,” he said. “Unfortunately, most people we’re responding to, it makes no difference what you show them to debunk the theory — they don’t believe it.”

Unfortunately, public outcry isn’t focused on the problems that have led to the U.S. election system being ranked at the bottom of Western democracies by the Election Integrity Project, like gerrymandering, discriminatory electoral laws, campaign finance or voter registration accuracy.

Instead, they’re focused on process, like polling stations, vote counting and post-election results, all of which the U.S. compares well; research shows that voter fraud is vanishingly rare in the United States, with clerical errors and bad data accounting for most reports. In the face of these bogus voter fraud claims, what can federal, state and local officials do?

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November 7, 2016 12:07 PM

A Vermont judge has ruled a private contractor managing medical records for the state has to follow the state's public records law.

Vermont Information Technology Leaders denied a citizen-activist's request for records on how it was spending money received from the state, saying it was a private, nonprofit firm.

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November 7, 2016 12:05 PM

Each year, Hawaii spends tens of millions of dollars to house prisoners on the mainland, a practice that it has maintained for more than 25 years.

But the state's taxpayers are kept in the dark about much of what goes on at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a private Arizona prison where about 1,400 Hawaii prisoners are housed.

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November 4, 2016 10:51 AM

This case (American Immigration Lawyers Association v. Executive Office for Immigration Review) involves a request by the AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records relating to complaints filed against immigration judges, who are federal employees working under the Department of Justice (DOJ). AILA was looking for a pattern of problems with certain judges in their handling of immigration appeals.

When six months went by with no response, AILA sued in district court. This led to what the appeals court characterized in its decision as “a series of rolling disclosures” by DOJ. Eventually (after about a year and a half after the FOIA request), some 16,000 pages had been released involving 767 files involving complaints against immigration judges. While the files had detailed information as to date, nature and result of each complaint, the agency redacted certain information it declared to be exempt. Some of these redactions were under Exemption 6, which relates to personnel files—DOJ withheld individual immigration judges’ names and other identifying information and substituted a code for each judge so the requester could connect various complaints to a particular judge. DOJ went further and blanked out information that was not exempt under FOIA but that the department felt was not responsive to the request even though found in a document that was deemed responsive.

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November 4, 2016 10:47 AM

Data is part of everything we do, especially given the current open data movement. From financial market performance to farmer’s market locations, weather to health care, bridge and road safety to population information, significant amounts of data are yielded and available for aggregation and analysis, and can be applied to improve public services. This is the philosophy behind the open data movement —that if we make all of this data available to the public, at least the high-value data, we can crowdsource public service issues and come up with the best possible solutions.

But open data is only as good as the data analytics platforms and true data transparency policies on which it relies. Bringing big data, open data and data transparency together empowers data to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. Over the last few years alone, I have seen big data used to reduce sepsis, understand Parkinson’s disease, combat child sex trafficking and fight Ebola, among many other noble causes.

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November 4, 2016 10:02 AM

Pittsburgh officials Monday launched Burgh's Eye View , an app that includes a range of public records such as crime statistics, building code violations and excessive noise complaints.

The city Department of Innovation & Performance's Analytics and Strategy team built the app, which also is available as a website, as part of an effort to increase openness and accessibility.

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open data, Pittsburgh
November 3, 2016 10:54 AM

A lawyer for Gov. Pat McCrory told the state Court of Appeals Tuesday morning that the state should be immune from any judgment finding the current administration either cannot or does not comply with open records requests in a timely manner, as alleged by a coalition of media groups.

The group includes Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL News, and other media companies, as well as the Southern Environmental Law Center and the North Carolina Justice Center. All make regular use of public records in their work.

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November 3, 2016 10:36 AM

New England First Amendment Coalition posted their report for October 2016. You can find it here.

November 3, 2016 10:08 AM

For updates from the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, or CFOIC, see their newsletter here.

November 2, 2016 9:33 AM

Three non-profit watchdog groups today lauded New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer for being the first government officer in the United States to comply with a new accounting rule requiring the disclosure of how much revenue is lost to corporate tax breaks given for economic development. More than 50,000 state and local government bodies are expected to issue such data over the next two years.

The new data is mandated by Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement No. 77 on Tax Abatement Disclosures, but New York City was not technically required to include the data until its next financial report, to be issued in fall 2017.

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November 2, 2016 9:25 AM

Media rights champion Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for the Washington Post, will receive the New England First Amendment Coalition's 2017 Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award, given each year to an individual who has promoted, defended or advocated for the First Amendment throughout his or her career.

NEFAC will honor Sullivan at its annual luncheon scheduled for Feb. 24, 2017 at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston. Tickets can be purchased here. The coalition also will present its Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award and Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award during the event. Nomination forms for these awards will be available later this month.

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November 2, 2016 9:22 AM

The Sunlight Foundation continues to wind down, and projects and initiatives from Sunlight Labs are in the process of being transferred to their new homes.  

Sunlight Labs is still looking for a home for Email Congress, a service that allows constituents to email their congressional representatives directly rather than going through webforms. If you would be interested in adopting Email Congress, please email Sunlight Labs at labslove@sunlightfoundation.com.

Sunlight will retire Real-Time Influence Explorer and Political Ad Sleuth after Election Day on Nov. 8. They will also retire Scout, their notification system.

Sunlight Labs is transferring the rest of their projects to journalism organizations (including ProPublica), non-profits, academic programs, and government agencies.  

More details can be found on the Sunlight Foundation's website.

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