Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Own Beeswax

Perhaps my cynicism is more than a bit unfair, but these are the email exchanges I've been having regarding the issues in my last post:

1) Attempting to get the summary data for the voting machine report (just the data already publicly reported)
----------------
From the BOE:

Jason,

Iʼm told we only have the pdf. version. Youʼd have to contact the researchers for the other formats.

----------------

From me to the researchers:


I'm sorry to be a nuisance, and I realize that part of the problem is that I'm emailing all three of you simultaneously, but is it at all possible to get a copy of the tables from the Voting Machine report in something other than a scanned image format?
-----------------
From Researchers to me:

Jason,

Would a pdf format work for you? You want Word? I am not sure we are sharing the Word.

Thanks for your interest

---------------------

My Reply:

I was hoping for something from which I can copy and paste. I don't need the text of the report, and although I'd be thrilled with source data, all I'm asking for is the data in the tables. Although I could easily be wrong, the PDF on the BOE's website appears to be scanned from a hard copy. Regardless, I have been unabvle to extract the text from the tables. A PDF created directly from the Word document would work just fine, as would the tables from Word (or whatever format they were created in). If I have to type the table data in by hand from the published report, I can do that, I just thought there would be an easier way,

--------------------------------------

Researcher's Response:

Jason,

I appreciate your interest and passion. However, I am working full time at [name of large famous company] for the next two weeks and my partner, [other researcher's name], is on vacation. I am not sure we can support your interests right now.

Best wishes,

-----------------------

2) Meanwhile, on the independent topic of misleading voter identification info on the website:

Mr. Sullivan,

Thank you for your comments regarding the language of R.C. 3503.28(A)(1)(6), as posted on our webpage. Your comments will be shared with the Board members of the Franklin County Board of Elections and taken under consideration.

Thanks, Michael

Michael Stinziano

Director, Franklin County Board of Elections

------------------

I'm feeling dissatisfied on multiple fronts, but I'm open to the idea that I'm being unreasonable, and that my requests are actually being considered as seriously as they happen to merit. Any opinions?

3 comments:

Paul said...

I go through exactly the same kind of drill trying to get documents from the Hilliard School District. My latest request was to get a copy of the just-signed teachers' contract in WORD format. They told me I could come pick up a hardcopy, after paying $2.12 copying costs thank you.

So I asked one more time if I could get an electronic version, and they sent me the PDF. That's helpful for posting a copy on my website (the District never posts these documents), but what I really wanted to do was a file compare of the old document to the new, and I had a copy of the old contract in WORD format already.

Silence.

I decided that the quickest way I was going to get the comparison done was by eyeball.

I'm sure these folks are under the mistaken impression that a PDF is secure from changes, while a DOC file is read-only. Wrong of course - I have a PDF to DOC converter that makes it pretty easy. And if I wanted, I could retype the document in about an hour.

Of course, the really annoying thing is when they send you a PDF of a scanned image of document which you know they have the source to. They've done it to me, and they're doing to you.

Good way to turn a friend into an enemy...

PL

Brian O'Connell said...

bonobo: This won't help you in the near-term, but you might be interested in the Buckeye Institute's White Paper on Transparency. It's part of a non-partisan effort to get the government to make public records easily accessible.

Specifically to your situation, of course it's unacceptable that public tabular data is only made available to the public in scanned PDFs. Ascribe it to ignorance rather than malice.

You might have to talk someone through it over the phone. "Click file, then export. Do you see a file format setting? Click CSV." And etc.

Blogesque said...

It's not just you; the problem is from bureaucracy in general. I went through more or less the same thing every time I tried to get public records from the Dayton Airport, police department, FAA, ODJFS, whatever. They look at it as an interruption in their day.

My suggestion would be to take whatever they give you, unless it's the wrong data. If it contains the data but isn't in your preferred format, you really don't have much room to complain, and it's on you to do the conversion. They provided the data you asked for.

Now, if they didn't provide what you asked for at all (regardless of format), you have grounds to bitch. But the difference between a scanned document and a text version is just a matter of convenience and verification. Yes, transcribing stuff is a pain in the ass, but you knew the risks when you started the blog. ;)