Mass. Legislature Website Flunked by Sunlight Foundation

The Massachusetts State Legislature's website received a failing grade on transparency from the Sunlight Foundation.

This week is Sunshine Week, when journalists and nonprofits cast a spotlight on government transparency, but there are dark clouds over the Massachusetts Legislature’s website according to one organization. 

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Sunshine Foundation gave the state Legislature’s website an ‘F,’ one of five states to receive a failing grade on a report card grading each state legislature website’s transparency.

Websites were scored in six categories. The categories, along with the score ranges for each, Massachusetts’ scores and explanations were:

  • Completeness (Score range: 0 or -1. Mass: -1): “Roll call votes not published on site in meaningful way.”
  • Ease of access (Score range: -2 to 1. Mass: -2): “Site is frequently broken with no notice to users; bill information impossible to access without Javascript.”
  • Machine Readibility (Score range: -2 to 2. Mass: -2): This category refers to the ability to collect data faster and more reliably when data was provided in formats such as XML, CSV or bulk downloads, the Sunshine Foundation said, as opposed to scanned documents or PDF images. For Massachusetts, “Vote data isn’t available; locked up in non-machine readable PDF.”
  • Permanence (Score range: -2 to 2. Mass: -1): “A dearth of historical information, all information prior to 2009 removed.”
  • Standards (Score range: -1 to 1. Mass: 0): which means “state provided bills in PDF and/or HTML format and nothing better (plain text, ODT, etc.)” according to the Sunshine Foundation’s methodology.
  • Timeliness (Score range: -1 to 1. Mass: 1): The Mass. Legislature website’s lone above-average score, which means “multiple updates throughout the day, real time or as close to it as systems will allow.” 

The lead investigator on the Sunshine Foundation’s Open State project, James Turk, told WGBH that Massachusetts’ results were presented to the state and the Foundation “was told that not much was going to change.”

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) told WGBH that he thought Massachusetts has improved the bill tracking process, but admitted he was frustrated that all roll call votes were not online and said the site’s transparency could be better, adding that the executive branch websites provide better transparency. Turk agreed that Massachusetts’ executive branch “has been doing a great job.”

Do you agree with the Legislature website’s grade? What would you like to see available on the site? And how would you grade your town or city government’s website on transparency? Tell us in the comments.

South End Patch