SoS Task Force: Fixing a Broken System

The first of any 12-step program is to admit the problem, and the Secretary of State’s staff took that step Thursday, acknowledging their campaign finance disclosure system is broken.

The staff and the task force studying the electronic system are homing in on the two aspects that earned the state a D+ from the campaign disclosure project last fall: the electronic filing for candidates and the system’s functionality for users. Both those aspects got Fs. Of course, it’s a system that began under the late Vikki Buckley’s tenure in the late ’90s.

And the staff acknowledged the many ways the system is broken: Campaigns have to reenter data on the SoS forms that are already in spreadsheets; the “back” buttons on the user pages often don’t work; fieldnames and layouts are inconsistent in searches; help features are limited; and the site is just plain tough to navigate.

What to do? Check out the flip…Among the suggestions from the 20-some folks at Thursday’s task force meeting:

  • Allow campaigns to upload spreadsheets directly, instead of reentering data into a form.
  • Use an entry system like Idaho’s that uses a PDF. This would still create the double-entry problem.
  • Create a desktop application that campaigns could use so they wouldn’t have to be connected to the Internet the entire time they’re filling out forms.

At this point, changes won’t be implemented until January 2009 – after the 2008 election. As Secretary of State spokesman Jonathan Tee pointed out, the bulk of the money to fix the system is scheduled to be appropriated in the 2008-09 fiscal year (see the Fiscal Note PDF here).

There was plenty of talk from the staff about hiring vendors to do the work, a prospect that raised questions from task force members such as Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, and even members of the audience. Indeed, the fiscal note for the project includes $1.4 million for contract computer programming next year.

But here’s an idea: How about an open-source contest among the state’s university students? Let business, computer science and technical arts and media classes at the University of Colorado compete with each other to design a new site architecture. The winner can take on the champions from other schools, from School of Mines, University of Denver, Regis, Colorado State and anyone else who wanted to compete.

Use part of the money you’d spend on a “vendor” as a prize for the winners. You’d probably end up with a system that works better and costs a lot less.

Future meetings of the task force are scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 9 and Sept. 13. Audio broadcasts will be available here.

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