Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Citizen-Sourced Redistricting Efforts Are Reaching the Finish Line

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, September 8 2011

Philadelphia's City Council is expected to propose on Thursday a new set of political borders to last the city through the next ten years — and the results will be a barometer of success for a group of do-it-yourself political activists hoping to use technology to impose themselves on the process.

Cities, counties and states nationwide are updating their borders to reflect changes in population shown by the decennial U.S. Census, a typically closed-door process that gives politicians the chance to engage in practices like agreeing on districts where it's easier for incumbents to win or skulduggery like slicing a white political aspirant's house into a district that is predominantly people of color, and hoping that race politics creates some turmoil.

The council in Philadelphia seemed to some outsiders to be doing business as usual, behind closed doors and without public input — spurring a partnership among the mapping software firm Azavea, local media partners, and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement to host their own, parallel process. The process, a public mapmaking competition called Fix Philly Districts, empowered anyone who wanted to participate to build maps using freely available software.

This contest is a microcosm for a phenomenon happening across the country. In Virginia, for example, advocates held a similar mapping competition using the same software, District Builder, which Azavea built in conjunction with the Public Mapping Project. Another contest in Ohio will have its winners announced next Tuesday. Contest organizers expect later this month to put their maps in front of the Ohio legislative committee responsible for redistricting .

After weeks of advocacy, Azavea and its partners will know tomorrow if they have gotten through to Philadelphia lawmakers. Already, there have been some victories — the contest generated 1,200 plans, 72 of which were legally valid, according to Azavea. Earlier this week, seven winning plans made it in front of the City Council during a public meeting on redistricting. Part of the point of the whole exercize was to create enough of a hullabaloo that the council would have to host more than one public meeting at all; given that a packed kickoff meeting for the contest, which boasts a $500 grand prize, drew the attendence of two council members, Azavea president Robert Cheetham takes some portion of credit for making multiple council meetings come to pass.

But it's unclear if the council has taken any of this to heart. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the proposed new map may not be much better than the one that's already there:

City Council will introduce a bill Thursday to redraw the city's political districts, but the boundaries of the new map are going to be "ugly," Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said Tuesday.

"We're going to have something. It's not going to be the ideal, consensus map," she said. "I'm not happy with where we are. . . . It still needs a lot of work."

Sánchez, whose twisted, gerrymandered Seventh District has been at the center of the fight to redraw the political map, spoke Tuesday night after the third hearing on redistricting.

Friday is expected to host the opening salvoes in official deliberations over a proposed map. If the council doesn't pass a new map by Sept. 22, its members must wait until they do before they get their paychecks.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

More