In November 2018, voters in Boulder approved a ballot initiative that authorized the city council to adopt ordinances allowing electronic signatures to be submitted to get an initiative on the ballot.
However the process has been significantly delayed prompting a lot of criticism from election transparency advocates including Steve Pomerance, a former Boulder City Council member, and Evan Ravitz, who both served on the Campaign Finance and Elections Working Group, which supported the 2018 initiative.
In August, the city of Boulder put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) for vendors who would provide software to allow ballots to be submitted on line.
Evan Ravitz says that the city has put out too complicated an RFP and instead he says the city should have accepted free open source software that was being offered by Maplight, a non-profit that works with city governments in California.
Steve Pomerance says there have been fundamental problems with how the whole project has been managed.
“How it’s done is totally dependent on what the Secretary of State will allow the city to do. The Secretary of State is the entity that has the data that allows you to verify this who signed who endorsed an online petition, and that data is date of birth and driver’s license numbers. Basically it’s what they use. And so the question is then how does that data get applied to these online endorsements to check to make sure the person who you know check the box is the real is that person?”
Pomerance says there is an enormous range of possibilities for how to verify people’s identity, with several options already in use.
“You basically do exactly what you do to change your party affiliation or to register to vote which is you sign up with your name and your date of birth and your driver’s license number, and that gives you a high level of security, and then you would go to the Boulder petition page and you would be able to read the petition and you would be able to see a pro and con if the city chooses to do that. And then you could check the box if you wanted to. That’s the simplest most secure system.”
Evan Ravitz says the city should have just accepted MapLight’s offer of free open source software instead of issuing a complicated RFP.
“The only reason I even knew anything was going on wrong because I thought well if MapLight goes through the process and they have the free system everyone else wants thousands of dollars not play to win, but then I see in the proposed city budget, the city wants $400,000. This is a travesty to spend four hundred thousand when we could have one at least to try it out for free.”
You can find out more about the issue at the Facebook page for Strengthen Direct Democracy.
On September 6th, Bryan Rachal, Deputy Communication Director with the City of Boulder, provided KGNU with this table which is an estimated timeline from the original RFP document.
Rachal provided the following statement: “While we had intended to have the finalists down-selected earlier, we received 9 proposals. This is a much higher vendor response than we had anticipated and a signal of a high quality RFP. As a result, it will take longer to review than we had planned. Further, it is not standard practice for the city to publicly announce down selected vendors in the middle of the process, this can create risks to the procurement. Nor is it typical to announce the winning vendor until the city is confident that a contract can be executed, again to limit risks the procurement process is compromised.”
On October 23rd, Bryan Rachal, Deputy Communication Director with the City of Boulder told KGNU via email there there was no updated information available on the RFP process.
Five city council candidates submitted a letter to city staff asking for the process to be expediated.
“We City Council candidates and idea originator Evan Ravitz are respectfully asking City staff to expedite the online petition system for ballot initiatives that 71% of our citizens voted for last November. This ballot measure was put on the ballot by city council unanimously, after being approved unanimously by the City’s Campaign Finance and Elections working group.
One of the primary goals was to have the system functioning at an early enough date that it could be used for the 2020 election cycle. We are asking you to do all that you can to make this happen and in doing so, show that there are no further attempts to delay implementation of the voters will.
The attached memo signed by many of you requested another City Charter Amendment, delaying the online petition system by an entire year. All the members of the working group, and City Council, repudiated this.
Our concerns center around the City’s Request for Proposals for the online software which says the city would select finalists on August 30th, but an email from Julia Richman now says it will be another month or more. This type of delay could jeopardize use in the 2020 election cycle.
We’ve had an offer of a free system from Maplight.org for many months. Their President Dan Newman even flew here at their own expense to demonstrate to City staff the prototype they made for us, free. We’d like to know why the city didn’t investigate this first. Maplight software already runs as part of the California Secretary of State’s website.
We’ve rarely seen the city say no to free anything.
While we know that the city must undergo standard processes for proposals and bids, we would ask you to answer several questions for us:
1. Among the 9 or 10 proposals submitted, are there other respondents who are competitive with a free system?
2. How many of the respondents offered an open source system?
3. When will finalists be selected and announced?
4. When will the final vendor selection be made so they can finally get to work on this, now over 10 months since the election?”
Signed Rachel Friend, Susan Peterson, Adam Swetlik, Gala Orba, Mark McIntyre and Evan Ravitz.