Unreal: Election Returns Back in the Dark

The City Commissioners, showing why their office should be eliminated:

The city will not provide free election returns on a public website for the May primary, election officials said today.

Last year, activist Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg petitioned for access to the city's password-protected election returns website. Traditionally, only city bigwigs and paying members of the media could access the site on election night.

The city acknowledged the request and made returns available on a public site in November. But Bob Lee, an election administrator at the Philadelphia Board of Elections, today said that site was too expensive to run for the primary.

I will have more on this soon. But, remember, about 400 people requested passwords to view election returns. In response, the Commissioners spent a stupefying amount of money- hundreds of thousands of dollars- on a crappy website... that now apparently will not even be operational.

And what is their rationale? According to Catherine Lucey, it is that they say they would have to spend $30,000 in hosting fees for the night. For hosting fees!

So, why do we pay these salaries? This is certainly a reminder that when we talk about eliminating row offices, it isn't just about saving money. It is about a basic level of professionalism and competency which we should expect from our government.

primary in the dark

You have to wonder if there's more to this story than simply money. Primaries are where the dirty tricks really come out in Philly elections; the general election process has much less uncertainty and cause for mischief.

Covering their butts for the primary, they are. [/Yoda]

Well funny biz in the DA's race would have to be egregious

If Dan's poll data were to be believed.

Are there are any other elections going on that might be tighter, say one where the incumbent is a ward leader, who say hasn't investigated the City Commissioner's oh-so-competitive website development bidding process? Lemme think on that a minute.

Alternately, as long as we are pushing conspiracy theories, isn't this the year where Brady is pushing hard for party unity on the judicial ticket? I mean who pays attention to results for those.
-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

So assuming we go back to the old system

Does that mean news sources are back to paying $1500 a head for e-day access? Did we ever figure out where that money goes to? I don't remember there being any record of that cash ever finding its way back into the general revenue fund. You would think with this dire budget crisis going on, City Council and the press would be asking where that money went to.
-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Why can't they give returns to non-profits with a web presence?

And just let folks like Committee of Seventy post them?

Why can't they provide results to YPP?

Sure, there might be some unwieldy formatting, but better difficult access to critical information than no access at all.

30k is not necessarily expensive

I doubt that they have anyone on staff that is capable of designing, building, and running such a system. Those type of people are typically very expensive and getting it wrong could me very bad things, like exposing SSN's, names, etc.

While $30k is high for "hosting fees," he probably meant the fees to build and run the website for that period of time. $30k, including the prep work that might be involved, could actually be pretty reasonable.

Not the expert

But I am pretty sure they already spent over $350,000 to actually build the site.

I thought it was closer to

I thought it was closer to $200k? Anyway, the firm that did the design probably wants nothing to do with running the software day-to-day. So they probably have to hire someone to figure out how it works. Maybe not, you can always press for more information and clarification, but this is not necessarily a lie or an example of stupidity.

30k is ridiculous

I host an email system with 600,000 people and addresses in it on a virtual private server that costs me $25 a month.

Yes, $30,000 for this is absurd

This really stinks to the point of wondering what else is really going on here. Is this incompetence or is there something worse?

Alex, what do you think it should cost?

Your business does work like this, right?

Without actually putting yourself down for a bid, what do you think a project like creating an accessible system for posting the election results should cost the city, and how long should it take to set it up?

Well, that's not really the question here...

I really couldn't say how much it would cost to build the site from scratch, but they have a site, it worked last election, and now they're claiming it will cost $30k more just to keep the lights on within the site on election day. To give some perspective, how many $150/hr techs (to pick a price at random) could you hire for the 12 hours after the election? 19.4

We could almost certainly build a system to scrape that data for half that amount, at most. But really, this is just a game- someone is ripping the Board of Elections off, plain and simple.

. . . or the other way around

Given their m.o. it's likely it's the other way around:

The Commissioners are allocated $8.8 million in the Nutter administration’s proposed budget. But Lee said they need $9.9 million. Asked if he had raised this issue with the administration, Lee said no.

So you think the Board is shaking down the Mayor?

...wow, that would be ballsy. Can't we request to see how they spend their money?

The Controller can do a performance audit

I'm sure it will be right up after that audit of the Parking Authority that Rendell demanded in writing back in 2007. You know, the one we are still waiting for.
-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Again, for perspective, from my non-tech background

Hosting fees should be in the realm of even noticeable if it were lots and lots of data, seen by lots and lots of people. Like if Philadelphia's Board of Elections were hosting the only hi-def video footage of the Super Bowl or some once-in-a-lifetime concert would you expect one-time fees to get into the thousands for bandwith costs, from my understanding. $30k even at that sounds kind of ridiculously high considering the data we are talking about is just strings of vote tallies, one set for cumulative totals and one set for results broken down by polling place so people can cross-check for signs of funny business. This is in the world of bandwith costs,tiny, tiny ammounts of data.

I mean think about online banking, thats a huge database of every single bank customer, their unique passwords and accounts and somehow Wachovia or whoever manages to let literally millions more people check to see if their pay check or rent check has cleared on a daily basis than are going to be checking the election results on e-day. I doubt Commerce Bank is paying $30k a day just for bandwith for people checking to see if their rent check cleared but thats what the City Commissioners are claiming here.

Or another way, Chester County has 491,000 people in it, Philadelphia has 147,000, according to the US Census. I doubt very much that Chester County is paying $10k (1/3 of 30k) for merely in hosting fees for this website for just election night. In fact it might be interesting to call 610-344-6410 from the top of the page and ask how much they pay just for hosting fees for the whole year. I would be surprised if hosting fees totaled more than a couple of hundred bucks.

Any of you internet professionals please chime in if I am off base here.
-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Either Philly's losing population faster than I thought

or you're missing a comma and a zero, Sean.

yes 490k and 1.4 million

One is aproximately 3 times the other.
-Sean
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

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