October 18, 2008  ·  Lessig

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TransparentDemocracy.org has gone beta. This very cool sites helps you sift through election recommendations as well as corporate ballot measures. The gist is this: you pick your recommenders, and you can see how they rank candidates or ballot measures. The site will eventually be a platform for any set of recommenders, so its aim is to become as general as possible. But especially for us California voters (with pages and pages of incomprehensible ballot measures) this will be an enormous help. In the extended entry below, I include an email from the creator of the site, Kim Cranston, explaining a bit more.

Hi Larry,

I’m writing to let you know that we have launched the public beta version of TransparentDemocracy, and to thank you for all you’ve done to support our efforts – I deeply appreciate it.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the site and want to encourage you to forward this email to anyone who you think might find TransparentDemocracy of interest, especially for educating voters about statewide contests this November or shareholders in corporate proxy contests in 2009.

The Ballot Measure Voter Turnout project is the first application of a platform built to increase trust, communication, accountability, and responsiveness in our democratic institutions that are having a difficult time addressing the major challenges we face (a second application – the Corporate Shareholder Proxy Ballot Guide – is discussed below).

Millions of first time and other voters who will vote for our next president this November 4 will not vote on ballot measures and in other important contests if they are unsure about how to vote (in the general election in California in 2004, over 1 Million – nearly 10% – fewer votes were cast for ballot measures than in the presidential contest). This election, there are 153 ballot measures on 35 statewide ballots, with voters deciding measures concerning the economy, the environment, alternative energy, constitutional and civil rights, reproductive rights, prison reform, and other important issues.

TransparentDemocracy’s Ballot Measure Voter Turnout Project will increase informed voting and turnout on ballot measures and other contests by letting voters who are unsure about how to vote see how people and organizations they trust recommend they vote.

To best understand how TransparentDemocracy works:
1. Go to: http://www.transparentdemocracy.org
2. Find the California Ballot.
3. Scroll down to a Ballot Measure, e.g., Proposition 8.
4. Check the boxes next to the people or organizations you trust (or want to see the recommendations of) in the “Select Your Sources” tool to the left of the ballot.
5. For one of the Propositions, e.g., Proposition 8, select “Show all # Sources For This Contest” (just below “Contest Details”).
6. Scroll over one of the listed Sources to see if it published a statement supporting its position.
7. Explore “Contest Details”.
8. Mark and print your ballot.

This is a beta release, a work in progress – like all of our democratic institutions – so you’ll probably find a few bugs (please use the alert system to let us know what you find).

Here is a bit more information about TransparentDemocracy:

Our “sample” ballot-centric, open “Source” system allows any organization or individual to publish their recommendations and supporting information, which voters can then (1) filter a variety of ways and rate, and (2) use to make their own recommendations to share with friends. Sources can also display their recommendations on their own websites or anywhere on the web.

We are currently “reporting” the positions of some sources on ballot measures in order to “seed” the Source system; we have already done this for California and several other states, and are quickly doing this with the remaining states with ballot measures.

The second application of the platform – the Corporate Shareholder Proxy Ballot Guide – will cover all proxies with contested shareholder resolutions in 2009 (we’ve already published 40 proxy ballots that include 98 shareholder proposals from the 2008 proxy season, which we’ve relabeled as “preliminary” proxy ballots for 2009 as many of them will be voted on again next year).

To get a sense of how the Proxy Guide works:
1. Find the proxy for Exxon Mobil.
2. Scroll down to one of the Shareholder Proposals, e.g., “Proposal 17 Climate Change and Technology Report”.
3. For the selected Proposal, e.g., “Proposal 17”, Select “Show all 2 Sources This Contest”.
4. Scroll over one of the listed Sources.

The Corporate Shareholder Proxy Ballot Guide will provide significant value by:
1. Allowing proponents of shareholder resolutions to publish anything they wish for shareholder consideration.
2. Allowing organizations and individuals who are not the proponents of a shareholder resolution to (a) publish their recommendations (and supporting information) in TransparentDemocracy and (b) display their recommendation on their own website.
3. Making it much easier for shareholders to find recommendations from organizations and individuals they trust so they can better voter their values.

Please let me know of any ideas you have about this, and please forward this email to anyone who you think might provide support to TransparentDemocracy or use it to educate voters about statewide contests this November or shareholders in corporate proxy contests in 2009.

Thank you again for all of your support.