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March 2017
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How Local Government Works – Or Doesn’t – Might Just Make Your Head Explode

Public information. What is that? A great working definition, as it pertains to government is:

All information originating from the field of work of the public sector bodies and occurring in the form of a document, a case, a dossier, a register, a record or other documentary material drawn up by the body, by the body in cooperation with other body, or acquired from other persons.

Collective voter information is public information. Information such as how many registered Democrats voted in the recent election or how many were registered but actually voted. It is easily compiled in our counties’ database systems. Anyone who has “run reports” from a database knows it is the click of a button and the hum of a hard drive.

Recently I was asked to find out basic voter turnout, by party, for the recent primary as well as the 2010 general election for different counties around the state. I was also asked to find statewide voter information Let’s rank some them by ease of access to this basic, public, information.

The two easiest counties should be commended. Marion County wins a gold star for having the exact information needed online, in a simple PDF report. It is an E-021 “Election Participation Report”. Click here to see the report on Marion County’s website from the general election of 2010. Easy. They also have several other reports in case someone might want other information as well. Easy right?

I give a close second place silver star for “ease of access to public information” to Clackamas County. While the information may not be on their website, a quick phone call to their office, a friendly chat with Floyd, and he’ll email you the exact same report within moments for Clackamas County.

Our third place bronze star goes to Benton County, but the bar falls low quickly. I hesitate to even give a button for third place. I had to send an official email public records request via email (which is ironic when you read the rest of the story) to which I was informed I would need to pay $3.75 for two documents. Taking a deep cleansing breath, I ask if I can give a debit card. No, they don’t take cards. I will need to send a check. I ask if I can please be sent the documents electronically and trusted that the check is in the mail since the amount is so low. Yes. So I send the check, and I also receive my desired documents via email within a short amount of time. Remembering, the exact same information is free and online to our gold star winner, Marion County.

Let’s move on the Linn County. I must email an official public records request as with Benton County, but it’s cheaper! It’s only fifty cents! They don’t take debit cards. Yes, I need to send a check for fifty cents. I ask the same question. Can I please receive it electronically and be trusted the payment is in the mail? The email response I received from their supervisor of elections is, “Our policy is that we receive payment prior to sending out the order. We treat everyone equally with this policy, no matter how small or large the cost is.” No buttons for Linn County for the fact that they actually asked for and received a check for fifty cents. I received the electronic documents at 5:30 pm the next day.

Lane County. You know Lane County. University of Oregon, tree huggers, hippies, composting and all things green. Same scenario. The cost is $8.00 for the two page report. Debit cards not accepted. No we can’t trust that the check is in the mail. Even better, they have an office policy that they send no records electronically. In a place ranked high for all things ecologically wonderful, I get to wait for a printed report to be mailed to me via a petrol sucking vehicle printed on evil tree killing paper. I will say one shining bulb in the Lane County scenario, the person I talked to agreed with me the entire time I repeatedly said, “You’re kidding me. Let’s compare this to other counties…..” We had a nice time pitching a fit together. No buttons for Lane County. In our simple little award system, I deem them worthy of demerits and derision for pure silliness and waste. Again, the exact same report is available for free, paperless, no charge, online in Marion County.

Here is another completely different scenario. Oregon statewide voter database. Yes, voter information is public information. Whenever asking for voter information, you do need to agree to not use the information for commercial purposes. That is interesting. The state of Idaho charges $20 for a statewide voter database. The state of Oregon charges $500. The irony is mind numbing: Oregon makes you sign an agreement to not make money off the very list you just paid $500 for that other states charge a fraction of the amount for.

Our government, not working for us.

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