Responding to the growing need to strengthen and professionalize election systems that are becoming both more complex and more scrutinized, the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs is offering what is thought to be a first-of-its-kind online certificate program to prepare current and future election administrators. The Certificate in Election Administration program will provide courses in election law, election design, and voter participation, as well as connect participating elections officials across the country so they may learn from each other. The certificate requires 12 hours of coursework and a final project, and students may complete the requirements at their own pace.
To counteract the scourge of substandard housing in Seattle, the city has now connected code enforcement to the very heart of a landlord’s business enterprise by requiring landlords to meet basic maintenance standards before they can raise rents. Officials expect that more landlords will fix up neglected properties as the new law encourages tenants to report problems, triggering housing code violation enforcement. While landlords have criticized the measure as a form of rent control, supporters believe that it will address the persistent problem of rising housing costs matched with decreasing housing quality.
The country of Estonia is on the vanguard of digital government. It offers a rapid e-residency program whereby anyone can become a digital resident of the country, register a company in Estonia, open an Estonian bank account, and start trading. Estonia is also working to automate everything from medical records sharing — where technology at the doctor’s office would sense your presence as you walk in a facility and populate your data — to automation of tax and financial reporting. With so many technology initiatives blooming, Wired has called the country “the most advanced digital society in the world.”
Detroit is encouraging its students to continue reading this summer, and beyond, by installing mini-libraries in front of its 97 schools and at other locations around the city. The Detroit Public School system is partnering with organizers involved in the Little Free Library concept, which places repositories of books resembling wooden birdhouses in front of residences and commercial buildings from which people can take and leave books. Local artists are also creating their own libraries that will be spread across the city.
Federal agencies have waded into the use of Snapchat, the app that allows users to share ephemeral photos, videos, and stories, as a way to reach out to growing audiences as well as to highlight government’s more whimsical side. The General Services Administration has used the platform to distribute information about finding the right government services when they register to vote, get a driver's license, or apply for student loans. The Smithsonian is sharing behind-the-scenes tours of its facilities to garner the interest of potential visitors. The White House, NASA, and the Peace Corps are also among the early adopters. As more than 60 percent of American smartphone users between the ages of 13 and 34 use Snapchat, the app is fast becoming an important part of any social media toolkit.
To help foster sustainable consumer use, cities in California are promoting fix-it fairs and repair cafés, events where community members can drop in with defunct items they would otherwise throw away and have them repaired by volunteer fix-it experts for free. Santa Monica has held repair cafés where appliances, clothing items, bicycles, and computers have been fixed. Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena, Palo Alto, and Mountain View have also held repair cafés. In addition, Santa Monica created reuse events like city garage sales, Halloween costume-prom dress-tuxedo swaps, and recycling for large textiles like old bed sheets and bath mats. These waste diversion events are part of larger efforts to comply with California state law, which requires dramatic waste reductions in the next four years.