Filing campaign info gets easier

Posted: Monday, June 20, 2005

As the 2005 municipal election season approaches, the Alaska Public Offices Commission is readying a beta version of a new Internet-based electronic filing system that the office hopes one day will become the principal method by which future candidates and others will file campaign disclosure documents required by Alaska's campaign disclosure statutes.

Set for launch in July, the beta — or test — version of the new EzFile Report Filing System is designed to make it easy to enter information on the appropriate forms, save them as private documents during a reporting period and submit them to the commission by the due date.

The APOC hopes to have the system debugged and fully functioning by the end of the year, making it available for the 2006 legislative and gubernatorial election cycle.

The final version may have a different name by that time, but if it all works as planned, candidates and representatives of groups promoting ballot propositions would point and click to fill in e-forms rather than filling them out longhand. The electronic filing system is expected to reduce the amount of data entry work performed by APOC employees.

That will be a significant improvement over the current Electronic Filing System, of ELFS.

"It was created in 1997 using old technology and a database called FoxPro that is no longer supportable," said Brooke Miles, executive director of the APOC.

ELFS required users to download software and forms and use their own personal computers. A campaign's data could only be accessed through that computer. Designed for use in a Windows environment, ELFS is available to Macintosh users but only by using a Windows-emulation program and required a G3 or G4 computer.

The new system is Web-based and accessible from any computer, Miles said. Using a program called MySql, which costs the user nothing, the new system will be able to evolve over time. Campaign information will be stored in Web-space in private files until ready to be transferred to the APOC database on filing due dates.

Currently, campaigns must file reports 30 days and seven days before an election and an end-of-year report by Feb. 1 following an election.

"I hope it will lead one day to a different kind of reporting," Miles said, adding it might make more frequent reporting easier and more desirable. "The new system will be easier on the public and on the filer."

Electronic filing works well, and the new simpler system should be to the liking even of folks not versed in computer technology. It was concern for those users who led the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Gary Wilkin, R-Fairbanks, and Sen. Lyda Green, R- Wasilla, to draft a bill in 2004 that required the APOC to continue accepting campaign disclosure documents typed or printed on paper forms.

Lobbyists, however, were not included in the 2004 law revisions and are required to file electronically. Miles said lobbyists and lobbying groups had been urging the move to e-filing, primarily because it was easier and less costly.

The move to electronic filing was meant to make it easier for the APOC to meet its mandate to administer the state's election laws and provide the public with financial information about campaigns, public officials, lobbyists and their employers. The July launch of the beta version will be a big step in that direction, and Miles predicted that within five years most people would prefer the program over paperwork.

Miles also said they greatly appreciated the $450,000 capital appropriation (2003) paying for the shift to the new electronic filing system.

That shift was expected to take the better part of three years, but Miles said she is hoping to have a fully ready system available for users when they file their end-of-year disclosure forms in February.

"We are a library," Miles said. "We are trying to convert from a paper library to an e-library that is useful to everyone 24- 7. This is my whole world, my goal and focus — to have an e-library. It's all about having it all available (to the public) on the Web."

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