Technology in politics and government


Technology in politics and government

Classroom technology

Last year, some Georgia legislators proposed replacing books with iPads in Georgia schools. It was suggested that the measure might save money on the cost of books while lightening the load carried by students. I wasn’t convinced that it would improve education if they were simply being used as book replacements.

But now I’m learning about some neat educational initiatives using iPads as more than just a book substitute, but to add something to the classroom.

A Virginia teacher used Skype to enable guest lectures and a visit by the author of a textbook used in his class.

Another teacher used Skype to allow a girl who was home sick to participate in classroom discussion.

And here’s a list of ten ways to use Skype to enhance the classroom experience. One of the ways mentioned in that list is to allow students to practice foreign languages with native speakers.


In November, I wrote elsewhere about Oregon’s use of iPads to help elderly and disabled voters cast their ballots. NPR had a story on the pilot program, and a follow-up by suggested that state officials considered the program a success:

Oregon became the first state to use iPads in the voting process for its special election on Tuesday, with 89 disabled residents taking advantage of the program allowing them to cast their votes with an iPad instead of a traditional paper ballot.

Using an iPad, voters were able to enlarge the font, tap on their selected candidate and print out the ballot to choose a nominee in Tuesday’s special primary election. With just a few glitches to work out, election officials told POLITICO they’re set to move full speed ahead with the iPads again in the January special general election.

After Oregon’s successful trial, some private companies are likely to roll out voting systems that use the iPad. Vote Kiosk is not intended for “real” elections, but is being touted as a way for colleges to simplify campus voting and surveys.

There is, however a downside to computer voting, as was proven in 2010, when Washington DC’s computerized voting system was hacked to elect Bender from Futurama to the school board.

State government — there’s an app for that

Georgia’s state government has gotten into the app game, with the Georgia Centers for Innovation releasing an app through iTunes.

Georgia State University developed another app to allow owners of an iPhone to take a guided tour of the State Capitol and watch videos about the building and important state historical events. A notable omission from the guided tour is the two-headed calf on the fourth floor.

Utah purchased iPads in 2010 for the Governor,  CIO, water quality inspectors and social workers.

Local government

The Johns Creek City Council has issued iPads to City Council members. Member Ivan Figueroa says that the iPads save money on printing and overtime required to compile meeting agendas, reports and supporting materials. The City formerly produced a book for every member for each meeting, and preparation often required overtime by City staff, which has been eliminated.

iLegislate has released a iPad app designed for that exact use.

Going in with this sharp focus, we came out with a product that helps government officials and staff members enhance their meetings by:
•    Providing convenient access to meeting agendas and supporting documents
•    Reducing paper consumption and moving to a paperless environment
•    Reviewing agendas and documents offline and on-the-go
•    Enabling digital note-taking, bookmarking, and emailing by agenda item
•    Reviewing indexed, archived meeting videos

Social services

Accessibility features built into the iPad allow the consumer device to replace a number of costly, specialized machines designed for people with special needs.

Specialized speech devices from companies like DynaVox Inc. and Prentke Romich Co. range from about $2,500 on the low end to $15,000 for a device that uses the eye movements of people who are paralyzed to allow them to select words on a screen. Most are about $7,000, near the amount that Medicare covers for such hardware.

Therapists treating people with Autism have found iPads a flexible tool for helping their patients:

The devices have proven to be essential tools in many cases, helping nonverbal children communicate, largely because of the visual learning experiences they provide, not to mention their easy portability. Kemner said she has seen some remarkable breakthroughs involving the iPad and autistic children. The device can initially become an autistic child’s communication tool, helping build a basic visual foundation that leads to verbal breakthroughs.

“The iPads and (other similar devices) … can be designed for each child’s specific needs,” said B.J. Berhorst, a QMG heavioral health coordinator. “Children today are learning new concepts through the use of technology, and using iPads as treatment is a unique opportunity to connect therapy and learning with children’s specific interests.”

Speech therapy patients can also benefit from iPad technology.

Before she got an iPad at age two, Caleigh Gray couldn’t respond to yes-or-no questions. Now Caleigh, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, uses a $190 software application that speaks the words associated with pictures she touches on Apple Inc.’s device.

“We’re not having to fight to prove to people that she is a smart little girl anymore, because it’s there once they see her using the iPad,” said Caleigh’s mother, Holly Gray, who said her daughter can use the tablet to identify colors or ask to go outside.


Few things enhance political direct mail, websites, social networking and media more than professional photography, but a full-time shooter is not in the budget for most campaigns. Learning to take competent photos and having a better quality camera than whatever’s on your cell phone can greatly enhance your production value.

Digital SLRs simply cannot be beaten for quality photography. At $6000 without lens, the Nikon D4 is a beast, but is probably overkill for most campaigns, and even most professionals. The D800 gives me camera envy, but for now I make due with a Nikon D90, for which I paid $439 used after selling my lower-level Nikon D5000 for $500 and pocketing the difference.

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