History of E-Democracy

E-Democracy has been a consistent pioneer in online civic engagement work in local communities for nearly two decades. We began in 1994 by creating the world’s first election information website, powered by volunteers. These key milestones shaped our history: 

  • 1994 – World’s first election information website. First online candidate debate. MN-Politics online forum launched creating longest lasting statewide online citizen-to-citizen discussion active to today.
  • 1995 – Our statewide “online town hall” takes hold and E-Democracy becomes a trusted, neutral, nonprofit host of dialogue among people with differing views and backgrounds
7 pieces of advice from professionals
  • 1996-97 – E-Democracy invited to share lessons starting in Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and more
  • 1998-99 – The Minneapolis Issues Forum and St. Paul Issues Forum took the online town hall model local. More women, elected officials, and active citizens participate
  • 2000 – Winona Community Forum launched; global Democracies Online Newswire promoting civic participation online grows to 1,000 members
  • 2001-03 – E-Democracy receives Minneapolis Award from Mayor R.T. Rybak, the John F. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award, and is listed among the 25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics
  • 2005 – British government funds pilot forums and “how to” guidebook for the UK; E-Democracy receives Honourable Mention for online communities in the Ars Prix Electronica Awards in Linz, Austria
  • 2006 – E-Democracy receives Minneapolis Foundation MSNet Fund planning grant for inclusive Minneapolis neighborhood forums targeted to lower income, highly diverse, high immigrant areas; lead founder Steven Clift’s election to the Ashoka Fellow fellowship for “leading the way to healthier democracy by using the Internet for local discussion and citizen participation” allows him to focus on the nonprofit full-time
  • 2007 – Bristol and Oxford neighborhood forums launch; E-Democracy blog starts; MSNet funded Neighborhood Forums Project starts; Minnesota Rural Voices project launches with Blandin Foundation support; Forums launch in Minneapolis in Cedar Riverside, Roseville, Seward, and Standish Ericsson neighborhoods, and in Las Vegas, Nevada
  • 2008 – New forums include Twin Cities: Minneapolis- Northeast, Powderhorn; St. Paul- Frogtown; Greater Minnesota- Bemidji, Cass Lake Leech Lake, Cook County, Grand Rapids, Minnesota Voices online community of practice; UK- Bristol: Brislington, Greater Bedminster; Oxford: Cowley, Headington and Marston, Central and Southwest
  • 2009 – PACE, in collaboration with the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, features E-Democracy in the guide “Funding and Fostering Local Democracy: What Philanthropy Should Know About the Emerging Field of Deliberation and Democratic Governance;” new forums include St. Paul- Highland Park and the United States Issues Forum
  • 2010-2011- E-Democracy receives a multi-year Ford Foundation grant to deepen inclusive – serving lower income, strongly immigrant/diverse neighborhoods – online forum engagement in the Cedar Riverside and Frogtown neighborhoods and to prepare for expansion; Digital Inclusion Network, Locals Online, and other online communities of practice launch
  • 2012-2014 – Major Knight Foundation funding received to expand inclusive online community engagement to reach 10,000 forum members across St. Paul and to share lessons nationally. Minneapolis forums in Standish Ericsson and Powderhorn cross 1,000 members each and connect an estimated 25% of local households daily. E-Democracy in collaboration with Code for America, serves as the host for Open Twin Cities, an open government civic technology meetup and network.
  • 2015 – 2016 – World’s most comprehensive “neighbors online” participant survey results released showing many reason why forum members love their forums.  E-Democracy transitions to self-sufficiency doubling the number of individual donors to support forum hosting and support 100%. Contracts with the Kettering Foundation to lead experiments with their Common Ground for Action online deliberation platform and with UK-based mySociety to grow the global Poplus.org to over 80 nations in their online community. As a global convenor, E-Democracy brings their Open Government and Civic Technology Facebook Group to nearly 5,000 members from 120+ countries.

connectedheartCurrently, we have over 40 online forums with over 26,000 members across the globe focusing on inclusive online community/civic engagement. Of the 18,000+ forum memberships in the Twin Cities, over 80% of our participants engage at the neighborhood “community life exchange” level where our funded programming is currently focused. As of today, our story has been told by co-founder and Executive Director Steven Clift, around the United States and in over 35 countries.

Voting Information for Ramsey County and St. Paul, Minnesota

For our participants in Ramsey County, E-Democracy Board Member Anne Carroll has compiled a special collection of voter resources from official sources. As Anne says, “Go Vote!”

This year Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. Below is information on a variety of topics to help you, family members, friends, and neighbors have all the information needed to vote on Tuesday. Sources include the Minnesota Secretary of State and Ramsey County Elections.


Eligibility to Vote                                                                                                    

You can vote in Ramsey County if on Election Day you:

·         will be at least 18 years old

·         are a citizen of the United States

·         are a Minnesota resident for 20 days immediately preceding Election Day

·         are a resident of Ramsey County and the precinct in which you wish to vote

·         are not under court-ordered guardianship in which the court revokes your right to vote

·         are not found by a court to be legally incompetent to vote

·         have the right to vote because, if you have been convicted of a felony, your felony sentence has expired (been completed) or you have been discharged from your sentence

What’s on the Ballot?

Elections for different offices and ballot issues vary by year. See Find Your Polling Place and Sample Ballot to print out a sample showing exactly what will be on your ballot. This year the following will be on the ballot in Saint Paul (which is in Ramsey County):


·         President and Vice President: 4-year term

·         U.S. Senate: Minnesota has 2 US Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both serving the entire state; they serve 6-year terms; one of our two Senate seats is on the ballot this year; the other will be on the ballot in 2014

·         U.S. House: Minnesota has 8 members of the US Representatives, each serving a different region of the state; they serve 2-year terms


·         Minnesota Senate: Although Minnesota senators typically serve four-year terms, they are elected to a two-year term during the first election of the decade. This allows for legislative elections to fall shortly after redistricting is completed. Since Minnesota Senate terms are not staggered, all 67 will be on the ballot.

·         Minnesota House: All 134 members of the Minnesota House are up for election this year; they serve 2-year terms.

·         Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice and two Associate Justices: all contested

·         Minnesota State Court of Appeals: 2 seats, neither contested

·         Second Judicial District Court judges: 12 seats, none contested

·         Two proposed amendments to the Minnesota Constitution: one on the definition of marriage and one on voter identification

·         Conservation district supervisors for two districts

·         In St Paul, a referendum for St. Paul Public Schools; this is on the back of the ballot, so make sure to turn it over

Where to Vote

Your polling place is located near your home. To find your polling place, Find Your Polling Place and Sample Ballot.

Register to Vote

Before you can vote, you must register. You may register before Election Day, or on Election Day at your polling place. Your registration remains current until you move, change your name, or do not vote for four consecutive years. More Voter Registration Information.

Here is a link to the voter registration form. Save yourself time at your polling place by completing this in advance; if you have additional questions you can ask at your polling place.

Assistance or Accessibility

·         If you need assistance with voting, you can ask the election judges at the polling place. You can also ask a relative, friend, or neighbor to help you.

·         All polling places in Ramsey County are fully accessible to elderly and disabled voters, with clearly marked accessible doors and parking spaces. Each polling place will be equipped with an accessible voting device for use by persons with disabilities.

·         If you can’t easily leave your car, you can ask for the ballot to be brought out to you in your car.

·         If you are confined due to illness or disability, you can vote by absentee ballot.

·         If you have limited vision, we can provide you with voter registration and absentee ballot instructions in large print, on cassette tape, in Braille, or by TDD.

Problems at the polls

If you see or experience anything that concerns or frightens you at your polling place, Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky advises you to immediately let the head judge at the polling place know about any problems that are occurring. If this is not having the desired effect, you can then contact the Elections Office at 651-266-2171 or at elections@co.ramsey.mn.us. Please provide as much detail as possible to either the head judges or Ramsey County staff.

Campaign literature on Election Day

According to Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky, it is legal to provide voters with campaign materials on election day and voters may use these materials in the polling place to help them vote. However, these materials may not be distributed or displayed in the polling place, nor can they be distributed within 100 feet of the building in which a polling place is located and if it’s a public building, the distribution of these materials cannot take place on the public property on which the building is located. (See Minn. Stat. § 211B.11, subd 1.)

Voting for Those With Special Circumstances

·         Voting for Students

·         Voting When You Are in the Hospital

·         Voting for People Living in Residential Facilities

·         Voting When Civil Rights Are Restored

·         Voting When Your Home Is in Foreclosure

·         Voting When You Are Homeless

·         Voting for People Under Guardianship

·         Voting Instructions for Those Who Fear for Their Safety

·         Assistance with Voting

Voting When You Are Homeless

Voters must include their current residence on their voter registration application. Residence is considered to be the place where you sleep, so if you sleep in a shelter, at a friend’s residence, or under a bridge, this is your residence. If your residence is a place where the post office will not deliver mail to you, then you should include your mailing address on the registration form, if you have one.

If you pre-register and do not have a mailing address, then your record will be flagged as “challenged” and you will have to answer some questions before being allowed to vote. You will be challenged because the county would not have been able to verify your address prior to the election. The election judge will ask you about where you live and you will have to swear that you are eligible to vote before you will be given a ballot.

Homeless individuals who have not pre-registered to vote often have difficulty providing proper proof of residence, as is required to complete Election Day registration. As such, the law makes special accommodations for those who are staying at homeless shelters. In this case, employees of the shelter are allowed to “vouch” for the homeless individual, meaning that the employee signs a sworn statement that they personally know that the homeless individual resides at the shelter.

Voting When Civil Rights Are Restored (persons with a felony conviction)

In Minnesota, you cannot vote while serving a sentence as a result of a felony conviction. However, once the full sentence is completed — including parole and probation — commonly called “off paper,” the right to vote is automatically restored.

·         If you reside in Minnesota and are “off paper,” you can vote. This is true even if your felony conviction was in another state.

·         Do not register to vote before you have completed your sentence, even if you will be “off paper” by Election Day. It is a felony to register if your rights have not been restored.

·         In Minnesota you can register to vote on Election Day if you have not pre-registered.

·         Even if you are “off paper,” the county elections office may not have been notified that your civil rights have been restored. In this case, there may be a note on the list of voters at the polling place directing the election judge to challenge your eligibility to vote. If so, explain that you have completed your sentence and your civil rights have been restored. The election judge may require you to swear an oath that your rights have been restored, before allowing you to vote.

Read more about voter registration on our Registering to Vote page. Download the fact sheet When Civil Rights Are Restored (pdf)

Can I vote if I am in Foreclosure?

You cannot be denied the right to vote due to the fact that you are in a mortgage foreclosure process. Ramsey County residents who are involved in a foreclosure proceeding can still vote.  Just because a home is in foreclosure it does not mean that the owner no longer lives there. The owner still has rights to the property for a period of time during foreclosure and may continue to live in the home for at least six months after the sheriff’s sale. As long as you are living in your house, you can claim it as your residence, even if it is in foreclosure.

State law requires that anyone challenging an owner’s eligibility to vote must have personal knowledge that the individual is not eligible to vote – that he or she does not live in the precinct and has vacated the residence (through either a voluntary move or eviction proceeding) and does not intend to return.

An owner who has vacated the property in foreclosure with no intention of returning cannot vote from that address. Instead, that person must vote in the precinct of current residence, whether it is the home of a friend or relative, a homeless shelter, etc., as long the person has resided in Minnesota for 20 days.

For more information, go to the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State or call 1-877-600-VOTE (8683).

Absentee Voting

Absentee Ballot Applications

You can vote by absentee ballot if you are unable to vote in person on Election Day because you are:

·         away from your precinct on Election Day

·         have an illness or disability that prevents you from voting at your polling place

·         unable to vote on Election Day due to religious observance

·         serving as an election judge in a precinct other than your own

·         under an eligible emergency declared by the governor or quarantine declared by the federal or state government

All absentee ballots must arrive at Ramsey County Elections no later than 3:00pm on Election Day.

Sunshine 2.0 – Top Ten Indicators of Local Government Support for Democracy Online Released, Aspen Institute’s FOCAS 12 Conference

(Skip the fluff … See page 8 in the full draft for the table with all the details, check out this one page handout, or read on below for context and a summary.)


Drum roll please.  The moment you’ve been waiting for … or more likely forgot was coming. 🙂

Awhile back I (Steven Clift) led a Sunshine 2.0 effort for the national League of Women Voters to draft a set of indicators that can be measured by local league chapters to help their local governments improve their support for democracy online. With Citizens United dramatically changing the democratic scene for the League and the launch of our Inclusive Community Engagement Online effort, we’ve all been busy to say the least. Luckily or unfortunately, governments are moving slowly with open government where it actually impacts democratic transparency and public engagement in decision-making, so hopefully this build some momentum.


We started with dozens of indicators and reviewed dozens of reports. Mid-course we switched gears and decided to keep it simple.  So we picked ten indicative indicators that make it easier to compare how your government is doing quickly. One person or small group can just get it done instead of taking months to implement.

Now I have pushed through my major changes in the draft and sent them to the League. Whew!

Just as the drafting was done fully in public online, so to is the final draft submission (Google Doc) to the League. It would be great to get further feedback in the comments that we can share with them as well as to have some people try it out by using it to evaluate their local government. Below is the summary of indicators.

FOCAS 12 – Toward Open and Innovative Governance

Part of my motivation in finishing the draft is that it relates directly to Aspen Institute’s gathering next week hosted by their Forum on Communications and Society in Aspen, Colorado. Now I have a hand-out to share.

Most of the sessions will be webcast live starting Monday, August 6th and unlike most of the off-the-record Aspen events, this one will have lots of tweeting.

Here is a clip from their press release:

“Citizenship and governance in 2012 can benefit from the same digital disruptions that have transformed the business world,” says Charlie Firestone, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program. “This forum will explore exciting new ways to move that process along.”

“Technology has transformed media in the past decade from a one-to-many experience to a participatory one,” said Michael Maness, Vice President for Journalism and Media Innovation at Knight Foundation. “But we’re only beginning to tap the potential of technology to make citizenship and governance far more participatory, allowing individuals and communities to be much more engaged.”

Participants of this year’s FOCAS will include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President of the Republic of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves, California Controller John Chiang, Ushahidi Executive Director Juliana Rotich, and Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Susan Gardner.

 It is quite humbling to be invited a second time to an event like this. Last year Vice President Al Gore stopped by to chat with us and I recall being in line at breakfast and noting, “hey, that’s nice, someone is in jeans … oh, that’s a Supreme Court justice” (Elena Kagan was there for a different gathering on justice).

Anyway, this list of indicators is my best way after 20 years in the “e-democracy” space to say, “Ideals are nice, but let’s decide what actually matters. What must a government now do online to considered a real democracy in the 21st Century?” My take is that information transparency and data are only a part of the equation, so for some balance, here is what I proposed really matters when it comes to government support for democracy online (focused on local government, the closest government to the people.)

Indicators Summary 

See page 8 in the full draft for the table with all the details.


1. Elected Officials Directory – Full contact information for all elected officials including direct e-mail address provided online

2. Election Information – A comprehensive collection of election and candidate information for voters.

3. Council Member/Mayor Web Site Section and Social Media Links


4. Electronic Notification – Option for public meetings available.

5. Meeting Documents – All official public meeting documents online before the meeting

6. Public Meeting Webcasts – Live and On-Demand


7. Direct E-Mail/Web Form Contact – Response Time Test

8. Public Online Engagement – Hosted two-way public exchange and/or policy support for government officials and civil servant use of social media in official work


9. Transparency – Key government information and accountability resources online

10. Government Spending – Detailed spending information reported regularly online

Connecting Neighbors in Diverse Cedar Riverside

Everyone connected with their neighbors for participation and community. Here is how we do it.

Thanks to support from the Minneapolis Foundation’s MSNet Fund, we’ve been methodically building a base for an online neighbors forum in this extremely diverse community. With approximately 7,500 residents concentrated in apartment complexes not far from the University of Minnesota’s West Bank across hospitals and clinics to homes on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, the Cedar Riverside neighborhood is as eclectic as any place you’ll visit on earth.

Getting Food

The other evening, volunteers led by Ben Marcy, signed up close to 30 people at the Multicultural Dinner hosted at the Brian Coyle Center. Next the center are a number of public housing towers with thousands of Somali and Oromo residents, a growing Latino population and long-time Korean and Vietnamese residents. The area also has a history as the heart of the progressive/radical community going back decades to today’s Hard Times Cafe. On the sign-up forms, people listed issues they would like to discuss such as neighborhood peace and safety (five young Somalis men were murdered in the last year across Minneapolis), opportunities for youth, and more. In addition to local City Council member Cam Gordon who is helping promote the forum, a couple of school board members signed up that night. We feel strongly that person-to-person dialogue with a connection to our representatives as peers is crucial building agenda-setting power in our discussions.

Paper Sign Up Forms

With in-person outreach on paper sign-up forms, one on one meetings with community organization leaders, and online outreach we are up to 70 initial members. We open forums for introductions and general posting after we reach the magic 100 number (sometimes intros start early to help build momentum). Unlike most neighborhood forums we’ve identified in mostly well off places, this one is in a low income, highly diverse area. With our aggressive outreach we are on track to open a forum that is more reflective of that diversity than perhaps any place-based online forum to date. When we open the forum, we will work carefully behind the scenes to encourage the diversity we’ve recruited to introduce themselves and make sure their voices are heard. The first few posts will set the tone and determine whether people see the online space as relevant to their lives and desires for the community. While we continue to host all volunteer driven forums, funding makes it possible for us to help communities on the other side of the digital divide take advantage of our tools and community-building approaches.

Sitting Down

Next up to close out the grant, the heavily Southeast Asian and African-American Greater Frogtown area of St. Paul. We are scouting someone with organizing experience and roots in the neighborhood to help us out in the coming months on contract. Contact us.

Here is the text of an invitation to join signed by Ben Marcy, Amina Harun, Rhonda Eastlund, Mustafa Adam, Jen Moates, and Hani Mohammed.

To community members of Cedar-Riverside,

As a joint effort of numerous organizations and individuals of Cedar-Riverside we invite you to join us in a new form of neighborhood communication:


Through the support of E-Democracy.Org we are creating a new online issues forum where neighbors can send messages to each other about important community topics and cultural events. Think of it as an open and inclusive message board that potentially everyone can read, participate in whenever and where ever they are.

Topics may include:

* Neighborhood safety issues
* Area schools and opportunities for youth
* Local public health issues and options
* Area environmental concerns
* Local development and small business developments
* Community announcements from local cultural and civic organizations
* Other local issues and neighborhood life exchanges

Through this forum, our many diverse communities will have the opportunity to share their unique perspective and be heard, as well as to learn about one another. We will be able to instantly share important information that we can use in efforts to improve our neighborhood.

Sign up here – http://e-democracy.org/crjoin – and follow the simple step by step process to become a member of the new Cedar Riverside Neighbors Forum. You may participate via e-mail or web – your choice.
With active facilitation and E-Democracy.Org’s tested civility rules (real names, etc.) together we will maintain a respectful discourse, and positively encourage all in participating.

While this forum is independent from any existing local organization, many groups and volunteers from different perspectives and backgrounds across the community are helping extend this invitation. Please help us bring together hundreds of our neighbors by passing on this invitation and visiting the website today – http://e-democracy.org/cr – to sign-up.

Join Us!

Ben Marcy
Amina Harun
Rhonda Eastlund
Mustafa Adam
Jen Moates
Hani Mohammed

To volunteer to help launch the forum, e-mail: cr@e-democracy.org

P.S. If you have any trouble signing up, simply e-mail – support@e-democracy.org – with “Cedar Riverside Sign-up” in the subject with your full name and we will help you. Or call 612-605-0137.

E-Democracy.Org Makes the New York Times

I spent the first part of this week sharing E-Democracy.Org’s story at the Personal Democracy Forum as well as challenging governments to put representative democracy and two-way engagement online (video).

Some of my big picture themes were picked up by the New York Times in an article, titled From Campaign 2.0 to Governing 2.0.

At the conference a new book called Rebooting Democracy was released including my article on Sidewalks for Democracy Online.

Steven Clift
Chair, E-Democracy.Org

E-Democracy.Org says yes to 10Questions for U.S. Presidential Candidates

10Questions Logo

E-Democracy.Org is a proud sponsor of 10Questions. We’ve embedded a window into our site where you can vote on which video questions from citizens you want forwarded to the candidates.

I’ve also blogged about this in more detail on my DoWire.Org blog as well as on the PBS Media Shift IdeaLab blog where I am blogging a bridge between our world of citizen online engagement and citizen media.

Steven Clift

Strategic Plan – Information and Civic Education – Goal 2

Continuing our strategic plan conversation

Vote 1994

E-Democracy.Org’s humble beginnings started with the world’s first election information website in 1994 focused on Minnesota. We hosted content from everyone – candidates, government, media, the League of Women Voters. We organized an online candidate debate and when the election was over people in our MN-POLITICS e-mail forum kept talking. By 1996, everyone had their own website and we became the best balanced “one-start” shop for links to election information while improving upon our e-debate model and building membership in the two-way forum. We took the forum model hyper-local in 1998 and the rest is history.

Content is expensive. Content gets old.

Even with dedicated volunteer-produced content is resource intensive.

As they say, talk is cheap. So today our primary approach to content is the promotion of democratic content across the Internet with efforts that build independent original conversation around it from the citizens perspective.

Specifically we:

1. Link – We now do this via our “edit the page” wiki which allows anyone to help update links. Our election linking efforts now use the distributed wiki model instead of a central volunteer editing a web page with links. However, our lesson is that you still must provide strong content and editorial leadership to gain distributed submission traction. We aren’t Wikipedia.

2. Guide – This concept is in its infancy, but it goes like this. Get 1000 people in a community to discuss issues with say 200 authors posting at least monthly. Leverage that participation to motivate contributions to local wiki pages. 20 authors could do amazing things. Check out St. Paul’s Citizen Guide as a prototype.

3. Reuse and Improve – A few years ago volunteer David Stein came to us with an idea. Take state ballot details abd voting locations and develop a MyBallot service. The MyBallot concept is now wide spread and we are considering options for the extension of our service to other states through open source release and promotion of data standards. Project’s like our friends mySociety.org in the UK do amazing things with tools like TheyWorkforYou and Fixmystreet demonstrate how interactive options can be layered upon traditionally one-way content. With our “local up” focus we need to consider partnering and funding options to increase the tools available to our local e-democracy groups. This is not a go it alone area for us.

4. Aggregate – If an Issues Forum is the “Roman Forum” or public square in the center, news and government notices are the public notice board, local blogs are the speaker corner, and possible online events (e-consultations) would be the Senate. We have an opportunity to aggregate content that informs our discussions at the center of our model. We experimented with Minnesota Voices as part of our Gubernatorial E-Debate. We encouraged people to tag their YouTube videos, Flickr photos, Del.icio.us links uniquely “mnpolitics.” Each local group could have its own tag people use on other social media sites (e.g. minneapolisissues) and we would help deliver an audience. There are huge opportunities in the area.

This section of our strategic plan points out the need for evaluation and in my opinion some special grant requests to launch new projects and experiment with new possibilities. Strategies with goal number four also extend new feature (new content) concepts to local efforts.

What are your thoughts?

Here it is Goal 2 from the full strategic plan.

Goal 2 – Information and Civic Education: Increase the use and relevance of information resources about elections, governance, the media, and public affairs to help address public challenges

* Strategy 2.1 Strengthen election information and voter education efforts
a. Leverage increased election season participation to support broader E-Democracy.Org efforts
b. Promote online candidate debates
c. Continue innovations in election information gathering and promotion, and widely disseminate tools such as MyBallot.Net
d. Share “election toolkit” experiences such as wiki-based election links, online voter guides, and candidate statement videos across the network

* Strategy 2.2 Review existing election information and civic education projects and where appropriate, develop proposals to fund ongoing work or new initiatives
a. Develop a strategy to effectively use volunteers to generate public affairs or election-related content on our existing wiki

Local Elections, E-Democracy.Org, & YouTube.Com

E-Democracy.Org started out as the worlds first election orientated web-site (so the legend says) and has a long history of voter education and hosting online candidate debates or “conversations.” In our original local Issues Forum in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Winona, we’ve always found that activity and membership reach peaks in the weeks prior to a local election.

Today, members of the Brighton & Hove Issues Forum are discussing the importance (or futility, depending upon ones perspective) of the upcoming local election [2007 Election].

Meanwhile, members of St. Paul E-Democracy are trying to encourage interest in local elections, by bringing local elections to into the age of youtube.com. As part of the outreach work that St. Paul E-Democracy has been doing in a local library, volunteers invited any local candidate for city council or school board to come down to the library, where volunteers and library patrons would video tape a candidate statement and upload it to YouTube.Com for them.

As a result, about 12 of the 22 known candidates for local office in St. Paul now have videos on YouTube, others are expected to record a statement in the coming week or two.

To get an idea of who is running for local office in St. Paul, check out their YouTube.Com page.

Exploring a Presidential E-Debate, Sign Our Petition to Candidates

Sign our petition!

In early January, we announced that we made it to round two of the Knight Foundation’s New Challenge with our proposal for a Pre-Primary Presidential E-Debate. We hosted the first e-debate back in 1994.

We will find out if our proposal wins funding in mid-April. Ultimately, our goal is to see this idea take off, so here is our top secret e-debate diagram to spur collaboration among a network of hosts:

Presidential E-Debate Diagram Proposal

You like it? Watch our 20 minute “screencast” with details as prepared for the Knight Foundation. Perhaps you might like to support the idea yourself?

Whether we are funded or not, you can help make a signature online debate – based the voter’s perspective – happen by signing our e-petition to the major candidates (Republican, Democratic pre-primary and for the general, others). Then ask your friends to sign it. I’d say about one million of us ought to do the trick.

We will keep those who sign the petition informed of any major e-debates that emerge this election cycle. If you are a candidate for President, feel free to drop us an e-mail noting your interest in participating pending the full rules and dates. 🙂

Steven Clift

P.S. The day after we shared our News Challenge announcement, Reuters reported that the Huffington Post was exploring something (a non-partisan e-debate will need Republicans) and last week Gather.com entered the fray (welcome!) proposing a general election exchange (having worked on the previous Web White and Blue presidential e-debate in 2000, at this late point the candidates are completely scripted, so I recommend that is only worth doing as part two following a pre-primary experience). Even YouTube is getting into the act with YouChoose where candidates can upload videos and you can comment. Our experience is that in addition to candidate driven use of “interactivity” a single two week e-debate “candidate stage” syndicated (think simulcast like with television debates) across dozens of websites with citizen questions coming into a central is the best way to get all of the candidates on board and to engage the broadest audience. We also propose turning the full “Web 2.0” Internet into a participation zone we call Voters Voices based on our 2006 experience in Minnesota.

US Presidential E-Debate – Interested?

The other week E-Democracy.Org submitted a letter of inquiry (text far below) to the Knight Foundation as part of their exciting multi-million dollar 21st Century News Challenge. We proposed a pre-primary US Presidential online debate using a mix of video, audio, images, and text over two weeks in November _2007_. Yes, a full year before the election when the issues are fresh and you have lots of candidates with scarce space and time for in-depth debating on stage.

The Knight Foundation just asked us for a full formal proposal! We made the first cut out of what I think were thousands of proposals.

How does an E-Debate work?

Imagine a few major themes being debated by the candidates (asynchronous) on YouTube or popping right into your iPod over 10 days or so. Sprinkled along side major responses and (mandatory) rebuttals are quick text answers to short questions from citizens everyday. Imagine jump starting “Voter Voices” in the process with citizen-generated content “tagged” and aggregated in response to the substance of the issues being debated and not just video of who slipped on an icy sidewalk in Iowa.

In 2006, with the support of the Blandin Foundation, we hosted a highly successful Minnesota Gubernatorial E-Debate with all of these interactive elements. We kicked off the first candidate debate on YouTube with opening statements and allowed candidates to submit rebuttals via telephone recorded into MP3 podcasts. It was certainly an updated version of our e-mail-based e-debate model we created in 1994 as part of the world’s first election-oriented website.

Take a tour from: http://e-democracy.org/e-debates

Want to help? Share your thoughts or offers of support.

* What do you think of the idea? Should the candidates debate online?

* What elements do you think would make a compelling online debate?

* How should voters be engaged online in the debate, the election process from a non-partisan perspective?

Reply publicly via E-Democracy.Org’s blog comments:

Or privately:

Add your name and organization to a list of those endorsing this idea on our wiki:

If you are really interested in this idea, we are considering a conference call to gather input for our formal proposal next week (it is due January 23). Drop us your name and full contact information if you want details: e-debates@e-democracy.org
It is important to emphasize that this is just an idea, a proposal. While it would certainly help E-Democracy.Org raise our profile so we can better spread our central local Issues Forums model, I’d be glad to see this idea take off and morph into something even grander or be led where the resources to do it right are immediately available.

Also, for this idea to be truly of the Internet community, lots of partners and individuals would need to contribute their part. Any foundation funding would be a drop in the bucket compared with the energy it would leverage as “netizens” define and create the candidate debate of the future.

Steven Clift
Board Chair

P.S. I also want to note the important Choices of Democracy and Video Voter efforts. And, if you really want to dig inside our model see our public wiki where openly share our draft letters to candidates, the rules, etc.: http://www.e-democracy.org/wiki/E-Debates

The full text of our letter of inquiry which we drafted publicly here on our wiki.

Project Title: Open – Online U.S. Presidential E-Debate
Total estimated cost of project (U.S. Dollars): $500,000
Time needed to complete proposal: 1 year(s)

What makes this idea unique?

Let´s see the presidential candidates really mix it up online.

In 2008, we can demonstrate that the Internet in elections is about more than just raising money and organizing activists for campaigns. Promoting informed voting and greater scrutiny and awareness of candidate positions are goals that can be fulfilled in part with an online presidential campaign debate.

E-Democracy.Org hosted the only statewide candidate e-debate in 2006 which built on our first e-debates in 1994.

Review the recent E-Debate: http://e-democracy.org/e-debates

Watch our opening statement via YouTube: http://e-democracy.org/edebatemn06/?p=9

New in 2006, optional video opening statements via YouTube and audio podcast rebuttals submitted via telephone were promoted. To generate public interest and direct candidate involvement, the Presidential E- Debate will need mandatory video and audio elements along with text options.

We propose two e-debates over the course of two weeks in November 2007 – one for Republicans and another for Democrats.

From our experience, we’ve learned that people turn to the Internet when there is a scarcity of political news and information in the mass media. While an e-debate in late 2008 should follow a successful 2007 e-debate, a general election e-debate alone will not generate the deep candidate involvement required. A wide open field of candidates seeking any kind of attention is ideal for the Internet.

An early e-debate, with major debate themes (we had four in our 2006 e-debate) and many short answers to questions submitted by voters, will create reusable substance for the rest of the campaign.

Voters will be engaged to rate responses, perhaps vote for a debate winner (after reviewing X amount of the debate), and submit their own response or rebuttal via video, pictures, etc. using our Voter Voices “mash-up” concept – http://e-democracy.org/voices.

Who else would want to use it, and why?

* Candidates – Voters choose which candidates to click on – candidates at this stage seek any opportunity to “click” with voters.

* Media, Key Online Partners – A partnership with media organizations and local media partners, particularly in early primary states, and strategic user-generated content networks are required to leverage promotional resources. Syndicating the e-debate content in all formats under a Creative Commons license is strategic.

* Political Bloggers – From questions and commentary to carrying e- debate headlines through “sidebar widgets,” bloggers can play an important role.

* Voters – Primary voters nationally will have access to substance. Voter questions will feed into major debate themes and selected short answer questions. We’ve held votes to determine final questions in past debates.

Why are you the best person or organization to develop this project?

E-Democracy.Org, a 501c.3 non-partisan, non-profit organization, is the e-debate expert.

A quick investment of at least $500,000 is required to produce this online event and to secure major media and other online partners early.

Our very successful 2006 e-debate received accolades from the candidates, voters, the media, bloggers, and our funder. See this post for video interviews and blog commentary: http://www.dowire.org/notes/?p=296

This effort will be led by Steven Clift. Inducted as an Ashoka Fellow – http://www.ashoka.org – in November 2006, E-Democracy.Org´s founder and chair, received a three year stipend to expand E-Democracy.Org. Ashoka’s in-depth review process to discover and support “social entrepreneurs” is extremely thorough. He is a recognized “e- democracy” expert and public speaker – see http://publicus.net.

In 1998, as a consultant, Steven Clift was a founder of the Markle Foundation’s award-winning Web White and Blue initiative. In October 2000, Web White and Blue hosted the general election Presidential Rolling Cyber Debate. See http://www.webwhiteblue.org. The successful e-debate appeared on 18 of the largest websites from CNN and Yahoo to PBS and AOL through syndication.

Ralph Nader’s decision not to participate and the conservative approach taken by the Bush and Gore campaigns meant that the e-debate exchanges themselves did not generate news. The WWB debate team (Co- Chaired by Mike McCurry and Doug Bailey) opted for voluntary rebuttals (we required rebuttals on the major themes). With September 11, the Markle Foundation dropped their Internet and democratic participation activities for other priorities. This rare national e-debate knowledge however, is available through E-Democracy.Org.

Note: If you are interested in a Local E-Debate Toolkit and Training Program for use by online news and citizen media efforts, let us know. This idea could stand alone or be part of this effort – start with President and end with dog catcher.

(End Letter of Inquiry)