When technology is used to disenfranchise some citizens

Localities in our area are trying to make interaction with city government easier for citizens. Williamsburg this week released an app  where citizens can request city services through their smart phone. Trash can is missing? Just request a new one using the app. No more long waits on the phone.

With the capabilities of technology these days, this seems to be a good direction to go. However, cities need to be wary that they do not make getting the same services harder on some non-connected users.

An example of this would be the bills that are submitted every year to the General Assembly to allow localities to not put notices in the local paper about public hearings on items by the local governments.  The bills always list other avenues like :

  • posting them at the library
  • requiring people to call in and ask
  • using a locality website
  • using some form of social media
  • using radio or locality tv channel

Such bills actually affect the elderly the most as a significant number do not use the internet for various reasons. They also have a harder time getting around so driving to the library for the convenience of the locality is not likely to happen. They can sit by the radio or tv all day in hopes through all the other ads they can actually see what they need.

Recently one of the bills suggested the localities could pick a set number of the options it liked best. Of course, most were technology options. The bill failed as do all the bills like this. The reason being that the main group it would hurt are also the group that have time to call and complain to the elected officials. This is also a significant demographic of voters that usually turn out to vote.

This year, though, some of the bills will stand a better chance as the localities claim it is a money issue in hard economic times. The City of Hampton is one locality supporting such a bill for just that reason.  True, we all know how the economy is causing tough times. However, that has not stopped Hampton from planning to build a new court house or making large land purchases this year. It is my understanding another land purchase is about to happen.

If money can be spent on the city’s wanted projects, shouldn’t they also be able to pay to inform people of public hearings?

This is compounded even more in Hampton because to save council’s time, Hampton has done away with the second reading on public hearings before items are voted on. So unless you know the hearing is happening, you are not likely to hear about it until the day after it was voted on. Then it is too late and the citizens are stuck with something a lot of them might be against. This is an example of how technology can be used to disengage the citizens.

I hope that Williamsburg’s app is a success but I also hope that they don’t limit access to the people without smart phones that can’t use the app. In the push for convenience for most citizens, the localities must not disenfranchise an entire segment of our population.

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3 thoughts on “When technology is used to disenfranchise some citizens

  1. How many State and Federal Politicians tell their constituents to “like” them on Facebook or Twitter?
    How many newscasts tell the viewers to learn more about a specific issue or who to contact visit our Facebook account?
    Facebook is where families and friends connect, where photos and plans are made, where classmates and old flames find each other all for no cost. There is no envelope, no paper, no postage, no phone or long distance coverage needed and it’s all sent and received in the blink of an eye.
    When Governments are in crisis or rebellion, alerts are sent via Facebook for citizens to rally.
    When hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, forest fires and tsunami’s strike and families are separated or missing and the phone lines are down they can find each other because of Facebook.
    Just recently a large national employer offered a job giveaway contest in this down economy but you could only sign up on Facebook.
    A few months ago the Richmond Times Dispatch switched their on-line comments to articles to only be left via Facebook.
    Problem is…… Facebook is not an open forum available to everyone with Internet access.
    Facebook is not a search engine. Facebook is not an information website. Facebook is a club that requires admittance and they can deny membership to anyone they deem unworthy.
    Facebook’s own policy states they have the right to ban specific groups of people not because of any actions they have taken on the Facebook website but simply because of a label they bear because of their past.
    Those who are banned from Facebook include registered sex offenders. There are currently more than 739,800 RSO’s in the U.S. today and 18,100+ of those are in Virginia. More than 60,000 new people are added to the U.S. Sex Offender Registries every year. Soon there will be more than 1 million RSO’s in America. Many share an e-mail address with their spouse and if that e-mail is registered to an offender Facebook will kick the spouse off.
    As for public notices being available at public libraries, many states prohibit registered sex offenders from accessing libraries.
    In some states registered offenders are prohibited from accessing any Internet even if their conviction was not Internet related. Some states also prohibit them from owning a cell phone with Internet capabilities or that can take photos or video.
    So not only the elderly and the poor are being disenfranchised with the political pace of accessing information and your representative through the Internet and Social Media but those who are labeled sex offender are being segregated and isolated too.
    You’d be shocked how easily you, your spouse, your children or your grandchildren could bear this stigma.
    Open Government must be available to all.

  2. Carole, your article belies its own title. No-one is using technology to disenfranchise anyone. You may as well fault them for using newspapers instead of a town crier. “Well,” you would say, “not everyone can read, or can afford a newspaper. Not putting out the information via town crier is disenfranchising those people.”

    More effective means of communication will continually push out the less. Keep up, or be left behind.

  3. Warren, my whole point is that the information should be available to various sources. Included social media, city website and newspapers. Why should only some know what is going on while others have no idea till they get thier tax bill. This is not a one choice only option.

    Many people see a big problem in Hampton which is known for suddenly passing approval of some big deal that cost the taxpayers a lot of money and no one knew anything about it. If they put it out there and people choose to ignore it then I can see them voting away and spend money like it comes from a never ending piggy bank. But those that care ought to at least be able to speak against it even if they are eventually ignored. That will never happen as long as the city is doing what it can to limit information to the citizens.

    It is funny you mention the town crier though because it got so bad in Hampton that a gentleman went in to get a permit for being a town crier to announce to people on the street what the city was spending money on. They turned his permit down and told him it would be a disturbance to traffic they did not offer him a second location. They just said no.

    I think now that man wants to move on to one of the cars with a speaker on the top (I have a vision of a car like the blues brothers) . I don’t see how they can turn him down for that as long it is below the noise ordinance levels because they allow the ice cream trucks to drive around in July playing Christmas music.

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