Choosing to try to manage our assemblies online this year was an interesting experience, from which we learned a lot. Typically, this is said of failed experiments, but fortunately this was not the case with us. The most inspiring and, to some extent, surprising aspect is the level of interest it has aroused. We have been contacted from many places to find out more and in some cases we have received a request to produce a toolbox to help small associations manage their online assembly. It is clear that around there are those who have done and are doing much better than us (such as the Pirate Party) and those who have studied the legal aspects much more thoroughly than us. The point, however, is another: to set up a simple and reasonable solution that can also be implemented by associations that are not necessarily made up of people with a strong digital culture, but who could certainly benefit from the logistical simplifications that an online assembly can bring . It is an intriguing challenge that we will try to take up.
Meanwhile, I receive and gladly publish with your consent an email from Marco Miglianti, which tells us about an experience that could be useful to others.
Innovate politics? Yes, it is possible.
It all started last February 16th when I received a phone call from Giovanni Gaspare Righi who told me of his concern for the Civic Coalition primaries that were to take place on February 28th in Bologna, only 12 days later.
The concern arose from the fact that the consultation provided for eight polling stations located in the city and in the two neighboring towns Casalecchio and San Lazzaro di Savena and therefore one person could have voted several times as the voting procedures would not have been like for the elections called by the state : we would not have had electoral rolls and people would not have had a seat assigned but could have gone to the seat they thought was most convenient. He then told me about the idea of making web-based voter registration software. I told him "if you come to my house let's try to do it" and he replied "I would have a meeting but I cancel it, I eat a sandwich on the way and I'll arrive".
We met at 10 pm and began to make a verbal analysis. We decided to memorize the voter's name, surname, date and city of birth and then calculate his tax code, which would have given us the uniqueness of the vote. We also talked about homocodiacy (about 30,000 cases in Italy) and other problems related to the tax code (in Bologna we have the Borgo Panigale case that could have happened to us) but we decided not to take them into account as the possibility of finding ourselves faced with a such case was negligible and in case we would have handled it manually. Between the analysis, the configuration of the database and the PHP and HTML5 tests, three o'clock came and we didn't feel tired to go on, so I sent Gaspare via email everything we had done and we went to rest, agreeing that he would work on it in the following days. And so he did but after three days of intense work we realized that in two – and not full-time – we risked not succeeding in the enterprise. So Gaspare contacted an IT company of his acquaintances, sent him the analysis we had done together, and asked for an estimate which he let me read. I confessed to him some of my perplexities but told him that they could be due to the fact that I didn't know them personally. But time went by, the company had asked for confirmation by Sunday the 21st to be able to start on Monday and deliver everything to us on Wednesday. We therefore reached an agreement: we would accept the estimate and as plan B I would go ahead and finish what we had started.
Given the short time, in the following days I concentrated on data input and related memorization, neglecting the visual aspect which I would only take care of in case of problems with the company but it didn't help: punctually, on Wednesday the 24th they presented their product that was well made. We tried it, we pointed out some small functional improvements which they promptly made. At that point Gaspare called a meeting for Saturday 27th where we entered all the volunteers present in the database and explained to him the use of the programme.
We arrived at the big day: Sunday 28 February at 9 o'clock the voting procedures began. In each polling station there were always 2 people who made voters fill in a form and then enter the data via their notebooks or tablets or smartphones. There were three of us ready to provide assistance to anyone who needed it but, in addition to registering someone who was unable to come to the Saturday explanations, our job was only to change some names and surnames that had been reversed and provide the number of voters to the volunteers who were naturally curious about the progress of the vote. At 20 we closed the voting, 1,589 voters had participated and there was only one program error, and not a blocker.
It was a wonderful experience, the program is easy to use (it was used by about 40 people who had known it just a few hours before), it allowed us to check that people did not vote more than once and to provide the press real-time attendance data. Furthermore, in the following days, Gaspare extrapolated the data from the database and made a graphical representation of the voters and turnout, which you can find here:
The program can be downloaded from Bitbucket at this address bitbucket.org/webappls-database/recoci
and it is freely usable by anyone, taking care only to mention who made it.
We thought that others might have the same problem as us and therefore it seemed right to share the program, our work and our experience and we are available to anyone who wants to have more information.