Today in OpenGov: Debates done, voting begins and radical transparency looms large


EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve been busy since our last digest, with most of our staff traveling out to Cleveland for TransparencyCamp last week, the presidential campaign and transition in full swing, and ongoing open data work around the United States and its cities. Sunlight is continuing to wrap up Sunlight Labs in the open, with regular updates to everyone who has reached out to us.

If you’re wondering what’s happening with our code or data or want to help, please email We’ll continue to keep you all updated about the future of Sunlight as we have news to share. Thank you to everyone who has offered support, appreciation, ideas, donations and shared our ongoing work to make our politics and government more open.

In the newsletter below, we’ll catch you up on what we’ve been up to, along with news and ideas from an election cycle in which transparency and technology has played an unprecedented role. — Alex

ONWARDS: Now that the presidential debates are over, Sunlight continues to call for more transparency and accountability from the candidates in the transition and in the campaign itself.  Our open government questions still remain open for the presidential campaigns to address. This week, we joined a coalition of other good government groups this week in pushing the Clinton and Trump campaign to adopt the ethics pledge from the 2008 Obama campaign. [Politico]


  • Voting has begun in the 2016 election. We’ve hit a historic milestone: For the first time, there are 200 million Americans registered to vote. While many of those records are inaccurate, the United States has made major strides in correcting the rolls. [Politico]
  • We’re glad to see governors and secretaries of state across the country stand up and say that the election is not and will be “rigged.” [Post and Courier]
  • A widespread DDoS attack on a DNS system this morning that led to outages in many services, including Twitter and Reddit, should catalyze some preparation to build resilience on Election Day. That should extend to newsrooms, which will be vulnerable to attack. When threat modeling includes a state actor, journalists have a enormous challenge and risks abound, as we’ve all seen in widely publicized hacks this fall. [Politico]
  • ProPublica launched Electionland, an unprecedented collaboration of journalists and nonprofits around the United States focused on monitoring our election in real-time. [CHECK IT OUT]
  • Lena Groeger reports that poor ballot design around the country has consequences: “We still likely lose hundreds of thousands of votes every election year due to poor ballot design and instructions,” she wrote. “In 2008 and 2010 alone, almost half a million people did not have their votes counted due to mistakes filling out the ballot. Bad ballot design also contributes to long lines on election day. And the effects are not the same for all people: the disenfranchised are disproportionately poor, minority, elderly and disabled.” [ProPublica]
  • Melissa Yeager reports on the spending of a super PAC, Priorities USA Action, which is working to elect Hillary Clinton. “Much of its effort has simply used Trump’s own words against him – possibly ones he said in order to gain free media coverage. The group has officially spent a whopping $100 million this election cycle, including $95 million dollars funding attacks against Trump, according to ProPublica’s FEC Itemizer.” [READ MORE]


  • Sunlight has long called for Congress Research Service reports to be published online. Now, a new website from Demand Progress has done what Congress should have done itself many years ago, making thousands of CRS reports freely available to anyone. [READ MORE]
  • The open data maturity model Philip Ashlock described to Samantha Ehlinger is a sensible next step for and open government in the USA. [Fedscoop]
  • Speaking at the last week’s New Frontiers Conference, President Obama weighed in whether government can (or should be) be run like a startup or tech company:

    The final thing I’ll say is that government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs because, by definition, democracy is messy.  This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view.  And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.

    So sometimes I talk to CEOs, they come in and they start telling me about leadership, and here’s how we do things.  And I say, well, if all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didn’t have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didn’t have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences — setting aside my Syria and Yemen portfolio — then I think those suggestions are terrific. That’s not, by the way, to say that there aren’t huge efficiencies and improvements that have to be made.

    But the reason I say this is sometimes we get, I think, in the scientific community, the tech community, the entrepreneurial community, the sense of we just have to blow up the system, or create this parallel society and culture because government is inherently wrecked.  No, it’s not inherently wrecked; it’s just government has to care for, for example, veterans who come home. That’s not on your balance sheet, that’s on our collective balance sheet, because we have a sacred duty to take care of those veterans.  And that’s hard and it’s messy, and we’re building up legacy systems that we can’t just blow up.

  • After directly engaging with the agency and seeing our analysis amplified by media outlets, we’re glad to share that the Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged the issues we raised in September and has committed to addressing our concerns by producing a new open government plan in December and restore hospital performance data. We’ll be watching — and trying to get Interior, DHS and Treasury to honor the spirit and substance of President Obama’s Open Government Directive. [READ MORE]
  • Former White House official Nick Sinai, who inherited the open data portfolio in the Office of Science and Technology Policy from Beth Noveck, wrote about a recent panel he hosted at the Harvard Kennedy School on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a digital age. He connects a lot of dots regarding the Obama administration’s efforts but leaves out crucial context regarding FOIA reform passing Congress: the Department of Justice lobbied against it in 2014, delaying passage until this year, and did not follow through on the U.S. National Action Plan commitment to build a new FOIA request portal in 2015 — and the White House never supported any FOIA reform legislation publicly until bills passed both the House and Senate this summer. Now that Congress has instructed the Office of Management and Budget to create one, we hope that 18F’s work on the pilot can be revived and share Sinai’s hope that agile development will lead to a platform built with the requester and FOIA officer communities, nor for them. [Medium]
  • Here’s a priority for the next White House: Systematically map and publish data about factory farms through the United States so that the Environmental Protection Agency, Justice Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration can more effectively monitor, oversee and regulate them. [Inside Climate News]


  • How much gun violence occurs in your Congressional district? The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) has a new “Congressional Reports” tool that can give you some answers. Sunlight’s Emily Shaw: “By collecting information from more than 1,500 sources, GVA has created a high-quality alternative to the public sources of information about gun deaths and injuries that Congress has limited. GVA’s database provides near real-time incident-level data on firearm deaths and injuries, including information on characteristics of the incident participants (age range, sex) and the incident itself (general location, context of firearm use). It also provides the informational source of the database entry, so users can gather even more context about individual cases if they are interested.” [READ MORE]
  • Delaware launched a new open data portal. [StateScoop]
  • If you want to bring TransparencyCamp to your city, Sunlight has an answer: adopt and adapt our approach to convening, hosting and running open government unconferences. Greg Jordan-Detmore: “We have a detailed, publicly available set of instructions on how to run your own TransparencyCamp, thanks to the hard work of Laurenellen McCann and other former Sunlighters. We’re happy to announce that we’ve now added these to GitHub. Just like our tech tools, it’s open source — go ahead and fork it!” [READ MORE]


  • The impacts of hacks and leaks needs to be thought through very carefully, as Jonathan Zittrain explains. [Just Security]
  • Radical transparency that sacrifices privacy in the pursuit of political sabotage damages open government globally. [WSJ]
  • “Responsible data” is a healthy frame for this discussion. It puts people in mind of something real, not abstract: being entrusted with something. Whether you’re a steward, protector, owner, consumer, publisher, reporter or developer, you should know how to be responsible with data, particularly data that has been lost, leaked, or stolen. I’m honored to be quoted in this piece, on transparency and ethics. This set of issues is important and relevant to far more than the 2016 US election. [Engine Room]
  • Who else will shape the future of a “data society?” Jonathan Gray digs into the issue and points to a new effort: “As a modest contribution to advancing research and practice around these issues, a new initiative called the Public Data Lab is forming to convene researchers, institutions and civil society groups with an interest in the making of data infrastructures, as well as the development of capacities that are required for more people to not only take part in the data society, but also to more meaningfully participate in shaping its future. [OKFN]
  • Following up on the International Open Data Conference, here’s an argument to make open data more evidence-based. [IODC]
  • The Economist Intelligence Unit has a new report out on “empowering cities,” looking at the role people play in the “smart city” context. [White Paper] [READ MORE]
  • In other weekend reading, here’s another new white paper on “reframing data transparency.” If you dig in, let us know what you think of their frame. [Hunton and Williams]
  • The United Kingdom is putting a renewed focus on digital inclusion, including a dashboard to track it. [Digileaders]
  • The state of open data in Germany appears to be improving. [DataEconomy]


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