Lucy Burns Institute
About the Lucy Burns Institute
The stated mission of the Lucy Burns Institute is "to empower our audience to engage in democracy by delivering exceptionally high quality information."
In late 2006, in an effort to gain a better understanding of local government activity, Wisconsin resident Leslie Graves filed a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. She encountered several roadblocks along the way, including a number of government officials who ignored her FOIA requests. Frustrated with how difficult it was to exercise her rights, Graves wondered if perhaps other citizens had experienced similar obstacles. Graves brought up her concerns to Sara Key, who suggested that Graves create a resource devoted to helping citizens navigate the laws surrounding government transparency.
In December 2006, the Lucy Burns Institute was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2007, the Lucy Burns Institute launched WikiFOIA, a collaborative, crowd-sourced approach to understanding state-level FOIA laws. The goal of WikiFOIA was to harness local knowledge in an effort to empower citizens seeking information from governmental entities.
Later in 2007, inspired by the success of WikiFOIA, Graves started thinking about other areas of government that can be difficult to navigate due to a lack of easily accessible information. She came up with the idea for user-driven online platforms dedicated to sharing information about statewide and local ballot measures and the laws governing them; state and local recall elections and the laws governing them; federal and state court judges, their appointments and elections, and the intricate laws governing judicial selection; and state court judicial administration. Ballotpedia and Judgepedia were born.
Because the Lucy Burns Institute was still a young nonprofit in 2007, Leslie asked the Sam Adams Alliance, another nonprofit organization, to incubate Ballotpedia and Judgepedia. In July 2009, LBI took over sponsorship of Ballotpedia and Judgepedia. Under LBI’s guidance, Ballotpedia has grown to include information on state legislators and state legislative elections; statewide executive officials and their elections, appointments, history and scope of power; U.S. Congressional candidates and elections; school board candidates and elections; and initiative and referendum at the municipal level.
LBI seeks to provide comprehensive coverage of the over 507,000 elected officials in the United States, as well as the laws that govern every kind of election.
The Institute is named in honor of Lucy Burns, a suffragette who helped to organize the National Woman’s Party in 1916. In her work to advocate the cause of “votes for women,” she organized, lobbied, wrote, edited, traveled, marched, spoke, rallied and picketed. When she was eventually arrested for her activities, she led a hunger strike in prison and was ultimately force-fed. She knew that being able to participate in a democracy by voting was an essential way to express our human dignity. For this goal, she was willing to fight and suffer.
According to the LBI website: "In a small way, we like to think our work carries on the spirit of Lucy Burns. In modern America, the barriers to full participation in our democracy aren’t as concrete as the ability to cast a vote. What can prevent people from fully engaging in today’s political process is when it is difficult to find accurate, comprehensive information about election laws, politicians, candidates and elections. LBI’s goal is to help solve that problem for all three branches of government, at all three levels of government."
LBI is governed by a board of directors. Members of the board are:
- Mike Barnhart, Chair
- Tim Dunn
- Jack McHugh
- Dan Liljenquist
The Lucy Burns Institute is funded exclusively through private contributions from individuals and philanthropic foundations. The Lucy Burns Institute does not accept government funding.
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