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October 15, 2008

Community Chest - Staff Picks
Super people, places and things, picked by our team of writers

Founded in 1996 by Vince Keenan, is an example of nonpartisan electoral public service at its best. Want to make sure you are registered, or where your polling place is? Type in your name and the info appears. Interested in who's contributing to a candidate? Click an icon and link to the Secretary of State site containing the info. As its website points out: "Publius continues to evolve based on the principle of creating tools to make the time citizens interact with government as effective as possible. We pound the pavement, make calls, and ask lots of questions in order to consolidate all the information citizens need to vote, and then we create an intuitive system to access it." The name Publius dates back to Roman times, and shares its etymological roots with the word public. And that, pretty much, sums up who this nonprofit serves. That, and democracy itself.



October 19, 2005

25 on 25 : Detroiters on the last quarter century and the next

Vince Keenan is the director of, a nonprofit that supplies nonpartisan information on voting and candidates online. Keenan, 32, was born in Chicago and moved to Detroit at age 4. He’s lived in Ann Arbor , London and Washington , D.C. , and now lives less than a mile from where he grew up in Detroit ’s Greenacres neighborhood, just south of Eight Mile.

I remember distinctly the optimism that my parents had when they moved back from Chicago about 25 years ago or so. The Renaissance City was the theme, and it seemed like things were just about to turn a corner. But I feel in a lot of ways Detroit ’s been about to turn that corner for a lot of the time I can remember.

Being a Detroiter is a labor of love. I talk to people who live in New York or London or Chicago , all these places. They want talk to you about what’s so great about their place. And it’s not that there aren’t great things about Detroit , but the thing that really binds people to this city are the intangibles that sometimes are really hard to communicate to people. If you don’t know it you can’t relate.

I think that Detroit has suffered from being a very isolated place that was known externally for very exclusive reasons, be it the automobile industry or music or whatever negative reputation it may have had. I think what the future holds is greater accessibility to the rest of the world by Detroiters and greater accessibility to Detroit by the rest of the world. I guess I would say the Internet is one aspect of it, but I think that successive generations of Detroiters are going to have friends that they correspond with all over the country and all over the world on a much greater scale than in the past.


July 27, 2005

I, Publius

By: News Hit Staff

Before the polls close this Tuesday, Michigan voters have a valuable resource at their fingertips. It’s called On it, one can find out not only if you’re eligible to vote, but also where to vote, what issues are on the ballot and what stances the candidates hold on important issues.

It all started in November 1996 when Detroiter Vince Keenan, then a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor , couldn’t find where he was supposed to vote. He later only discovered basic information about the elections as he waited in line to vote — from the League of Women Voters.

“If you’re standing on a street corner, you should know what ward it’s in and what district it’s in,” says Keenan, a former philosophy major. “The answers to the questions seemed like they should be obvious.”

Jamie Kaye Walters is a special projects producer for Channel 4 and helps run the site. She says it is user-friendly to Michigan media, not just the public. “It is the easiest voter-education tool — it makes the most sense,” she says.

So user-friendly, in fact, that it received 1.36 million hits in 2004 alone.

The State Bureau of Elections has an agreement in which it shares data with, Keenan says.

“Publius” refers to the pen name used by John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, which were drafted to drum up public support for the U.S. Constitution in the late 1780s.

Just like television and radio before it, Web sites like are yet another reflection of how politics has merged with media, says Vincent Hutchings, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan .

“It’s the equivalent of a public service announcement,” he says. “Whether or not these Web sites are effective remains to be seen. The jury’s still out.”

Hutchings acknowledges that and other Web sites like it can see a lot of traffic. However, he says, most of those who visit the site are already registered voters. This means that those disenfranchised from the political process for a variety of reasons — such as poverty — will not be logging on anytime soon. “For the most part they are enhancing the opportunities for people who are likely to seek registration,” he says. “They are not going to be your average unregistered Americans.”

This doesn’t faze Keenan. He currently has one full-time employee, two part-timers and five volunteers “cajoling” candidates every day for their campaign information. “It can be very valuable,” he says.

In the future, Keenan plans to post video images on the site to illustrate how to operate different polling machines.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette.


May 4, 2005

Choosing Michigan 's future, for dummies

By Jack Lessenberry

Hail Publius: Vince Keenan is a young guy who has dedicated himself to a career in which he'll never make much money, but, in the process, he's created a wonderful tool for voters to educate themselves. It's a handy nonpartisan, nonprofit Web site called Publius ( that's designed to make politics and government as simple and meaningful as possible. Check it out right now.

The Michigan secretary of state supports Publius, but Keenan says he's never made much headway with Detroit City Clerk Jackie Currie's office. This year, there are expected to be more than 100 candidates for City Council on the August primary ballot. It would be nice if the information the city has about these folks could land on Publius, to help voters make a somewhat informed choice. Which is Latin for: One Lonnie Bates is enough. Hey, Jackie: E-mail Vince.

Crain's Detroit Business: Southeast Michigan's premier local business news & information Web site

April 25, 2005

40 Under 40: Vincent Keenan, 32

President | | Detroit

By: Robert Ankeny

Biggest achievement: Founded when he was 23. It's a nonprofit organization that promotes voter education. has since become the official voter guide Web site for the state of Michigan and in 2004 was used by 25 percent of Michigan voters.

Current goal: To organize a coalition of counties, media and community organizations to use for every election, not only the presidential and gubernatorial elections now supported by the state.

Vincent Keenan is a pioneer in the development of nonpartisan voter education.

As founder and president of, a nonpartisan nonprofit, he worked to change rules on presenting election information online that had barred any link between state of Michigan and candidate Web sites. This made possible the Michigan Voter Information Center at

He started in 1996 with a system that required users to click from state to county to city, then only navigate a full ballot if they knew their various legislative districts. By 1998, Keenan had developed a more automatic process, and Publius became the first Web site in the country to give public access to electronic voter rolls. This enabled voters using only their names to find all candidates and issues that would be on their ballot.

In August, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission declared the system a "best practice'' and recommended it throughout the country.

Among projects he hopes to include would be ways for counties to add video clips of candidates to sample ballots online, Keenan said.

"Depending on how wired for wireless they are, the time could come soon when voters could walk the street on Election Day with a laptop and get all the information they need,'' Keenan said.

Publius has not filed its IRS 990 form for 2004, but Keenan estimates the nonprofit had revenue of $147,000.

Press Release:

Michigan Voter Information Center available at new Web address

 July 28, 2004

Contact:  Kelly Chesney (517) 373-2520
Agency: Secretary of State

The Michigan Voter Information Center , a popular online election resource, has a new home at, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land announced today.

"Voters need information that is accurate and accessible," Land said. "We’re offering it in a single, comprehensive source designed for your convenience. It’s just one more way that we’re using technology to better serve our customers."

Land commented this valuable site would not have been possible without the help of Vince Keenan, founder and president of

"I appreciate Mr. Keenan’s commitment to this worthwhile project, and I encourage voters to take advantage of the information that is now at their fingertips. A more active and informed citizenry means a healthier America," Land said.

The state’s official Voter Information Center is a joint project between the Department of State and Now entering its third year, the Voter Information Center offers Michigan residents unprecedented access to election details. State office information is available for all counties. Local information is also available for the most populous counties.

The Voter Information Center addresses the reasons voters often feel disenfranchised from the election process, by providing voters with:

  • Information about their voter registration status. Voters can instantly find out if they are registered to vote, and where they are registered to vote
  • The address of their polling place, directions, and a map.
  • Ballot information, including statewide candidates, and ballot proposals.
  • Easy-to-follow instructions for using the voting equipment at their polling place.
  • Updated election results.
  • Links to candidate Web pages.

"We are facing important decisions this year," Keenan said. "Under Secretary Land ’s guidance, the project has expanded to include a pilot program to distribute primary information down to the local level for 20 counties. This is just the beginning. This fall, we’ll have every local election, plus a few new features. It’ll be the coolest voter information center ever." is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded in 1996 to explore the impact of the Internet on democracy and develop Web-based tools to enhance the exchange of ideas and information.

As part of this initiative, the Michigan Voter Information Center was launched in partnership with the Department of State in 2002. It has been recognized as an international standard of voter education.

October 25, 2004

Press Release:

Personalized Ballots Now Online and Michigan’s Largest Online Mock Election Ever

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Detroit , MI – October 25, 2004 – Publius announces the availability of complete personalized interactive ballots for Michigan residents. Publius online sample ballots contain complete ballot information for every election in Michigan, supplied by Michigan ’s 83 County Clerk ’s and the Michigan Bureau of Elections, linked to information from federal and state campaign finance databases, and candidates’ campaign websites.

Through voters can view their sample ballot before they get to the polls, confirm their voter registration, identify their polling locations (including a map), download absentee ballot requests and become informed voters by browsing through the most comprehensive listing of campaign websites and candidate campaign finance information anywhere in Michigan.’s President and Founder, Vince Keenan, announced the start of the most ambitious online mock election in Michigan ’s history, available to Michigan ’s elementary, middle, and high school students during the week of October 25 – October 29, 2004 and fully integrated into Michigan ’s voter education curriculum. is a unique collaboration that brings together the National Student/Parent Mock Election, the Genesee County Intermediate School District, Michigan Government Television, Detroit City Clerk Jackie L. Currie and Publius. “This new mock election was created to help students incorporate research into their voting habits. It’s designed to look and feel like the Michigan Voter Information Center , so that when mock-voters finally vote for real, they are already comfortable using Michigan ’s online voter resources. This is an exciting project that breaks new ground by providing voter education for every stage of a person’s development as a citizen.” is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1996 to explore the impact of the Internet on democracy and develop web-based tools to enhance the exchange of ideas and information. Publius’ goal is to make it easier for voters to find the election information they need.



October 16, 2004

Residents to face tax hike

DETROIT -- This November, Detroiters will find themselves swamped with tax-driven ballot proposals to decide. Except for Prop E, none of them is getting attention.

Ten proposals, including two statewide, will be on the Detroit ballot Nov. 2.

"It is really important that people pay attention to what is going on, because there are a lot of taxes we could vote ourselves into," said Vince Keenan, who heads Publius.Org, a non-profit group that provides voter and election information online.

Detroiters should pay close attention to that information, said Keenan, whose organization operates in a partnership with the Michigan Secretary of State. He said Detroit typically votes in favor of mileage increase and bond taxes and he warned residents.

"This election could definitely impact your pocket book in the city of Detroit . This is one situation where people are going to put on their thinking caps to make sure they navigate these issues, and not just about the presidential election," Keenan said.

One of the two statewide initiatives, Proposal 2, seeks voter approval for an amendment to the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The other, Proposal 1, seeks to introduce new gambling facilities.

In Detroit , Proposal L will ask for a renewal of the Detroit Public Library millage and for an increase in property tax to maintain the library system.

Prop M wants voters to add one mill ($1.00 per $1,000 of each dollar of taxable value) for ten years. If approved, the proposal is expected to generate about $8,446,222 in the first year, also for the library.

Another proposal deals with the city's neighborhood and economic development programs. Prop N asks voters to authorize the issuance of unlimited tax bonds, not to exceed $19 million.

Still another, Prop P, requests tax dollars for the public lighting department to the tune of $22 million to pay for street lighting, service extensions and other expenses.

That is the same amount Prop R seeks, to take care of the Detroit Zoo and recreational and cultural facilities.

Prop S will let voters decide if they want to be taxed $120 million over 30 years to pay for public safety projects, including those required by the U.S. Justice Department's consent decree reforming the Detroit Police Department.

Proposal T will determine whether $32 million in tax dollars is levied on residents to pay for the rehabilitation of the city's transportation facilities.

"The people who want these proposals passed by not investing any money in their promotion assume, with a relative amount of certainty that the people will vote for them," said Tatum Eason, a political consultant and talk show host.

Eason said the fact that the proposals are not being talked about is "done with the deliberate malice of political forethought."

"This is called stealth campaigning," Eason said. "The citizens should vote "No" on these proposals."

No public meetings have been held to shed light on the proposals' origins. "We don't know what happened to the bond money in the past we voted for," Eason said. "There has been no accountability."

He urged residents to reject the tax-driven proposals and demand specifics for each of them, which he said would force the mayor's administration to reintroduce the proposals with more explanation.

"It is very important that people make themselves aware of these proposals, because it may affect their lives," said Lisa Whitmore, public affairs director for Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett.

She said the media should play a role in educating voters about the proposals, "by providing both sides of the issues so those who read you publication can see what is best for them."

Keenan, the head of Publius.Org, agreed: "Voters need to be aware that these city issues are coming up in a presidential year."

Article copyright Michigan Citizen.


Michigan-based Voter Education Innovator Named to Annual List of "25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics"

DETROIT, MI – October 9th, 2003 – Vincent Keenan, President and CTO of, the 501(c)3 non-profit organization that created Michigan's official online voter education website, has been named one of the "25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics" by PoliticsOnline ( and the 4th World Forum on e-Democracy. The honor, announced at a ceremony held on September 30th in Issy-les-Moulineaux, France recognizes the top 25 individuals and organizations in the world that are having the greatest impact on the way the Internet is changing politics.

"From the beginning, politics has been about two things - ideas and the people that make these ideas realities," said PoliticsOnline President Phil Noble. "With this announcement, we honor the most innovative ideas and the most influential individuals."

The award notes: "Keenan is responsible for one of the best political sites focused on one geographic area, the State of Michigan… It is a one-stop shop for politics on every level from city- to state-wide elections. All candidate information for every election in every county, city and township in Michigan was provided to the 6 million registered voters in Michigan."

"It's gratifying to see Michigan take its place on the world stage of e-Democracy" said Mr. Keenan. "Every day I get to work in an area that I am deeply committed to and passionate about – improving the quality and character of American democracy by encouraging informed participation. While we still have a long way to go, it's an honor to be recognized."

This honor comes on the heels of Publius' 2003 Webby Award®nomination in the Government/Law category shared by NASA and the United Nations. The Detroit Free Press' Mike Wendland calls Publius "one of the most sophisticated and useful online informational tools I've ever seen."

About Vincent M. Keenan:

Vincent M. Keenan is the founder of Publius, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting civic participation and cultivating new ideas voter education. Publius was born in 1996 out of the idea that the Internet possesses enormous potential to empower voters and enhance their ability to interact with their government. Publius maintains the Michigan Secretary of State's Publius Voter Information Center, Michigan's official voter education website, at

Vince's deep commitment to American democracy is rooted in a lifetime of dinner table conversations with his mother, a teacher, and father, a constitutional law professor. A lifelong resident of Detroit, Vince holds a degree in philosophy from the University of Michigan. He attended University of Detroit Jesuit High School and St. George's Secondary School in London, England. He has written extensively on technology and civic participation, and has lectured at major universities and conferences.

About Publius:

Publius is a non-partisan, non-profit organization founded to explore the Internet's potential to educate voters and promote civic engagement. Publius has developed a comprehensive set of web-based tools that provide Michiganvoters with direct access to their registration status, polling site and candidate information and much more. The Publius website, PUBLIUS.ORG, prototypes new techniques while its sister site SOSPUBLIUS.ORG, is the official online voter education system for the state of Michigan. Publius also promotes civic participation by area youth – the state's future voters. In the spring of 2003 Publius spearheaded Detroit's first online mock election with the Detroit City Clerk's office and the Detroit Public High Schools in which 2,200 students voted.


October 31, 2002

By: Mike Wendland, Free Press Columnist

Thanks to the Internet, it's never been easier to be an informed voter.

Start with the Michigan Secretary of State's brand new Publius Voter Information Center ( It's one of the most sophisticated and useful online informational tools I've ever seen.  

Start by entering your name and city -- or just your address. If you're a registered voter, the site will provide your polling location address and a series of icons that will bring up an online version of the ballot you will be provided Tuesday.

But wait, as they say on those late-night TV ads, there's more.

Click on the hyperlinked name of a candidate to visit his or her campaign Web site, if there is one. And most often there is. Many of the sites also contain a candidate's autobiography.

Impressed? Again, there's more.

Click on the dollar sign logo next to the candidate's name on the sample ballot to review his or her most recent campaign spending reports filed with the Michigan Department of Elections. The site brings up images of the actual documents, detailing who's giving money to the campaign and how much. As of Wednesday, the information was current through Tuesday, and the site is updated daily as new information becomes available.

There's also a terrific feature that tells you what kind of equipment you'll be using to vote, be it punch cards, paper or optical scanner connect-the-arrow ballots. A drop-down menu links you to an online video or animation tutorial on how to mark your ballot.

This is a terrific site that every voter needs to visit before Tuesday.


Brian Dickerson: For undecided voters, there are Web sites for sore eyes

November 3, 2000

When it comes to undecided voters, I'm of two minds.

My first instinct is to shoot them. Not with bullets, for heaven's sake -- just some benign tranquilizer that renders them unconscious until after the polls have closed Tuesday.

Alternatively, those who haven't determined who candidates are by, say, noon Monday could be escorted to warming centers and distracted with food, drink and entertainment until any opportunity to play eenie-meenie-minie-mo in the voting booth had safely passed.

In more circumspect moments, I remind myself that neither ignorance nor indecision is, strictly speaking, a criminal offense. Most people do not get paid to troll political Web sites on their office computers, as I do, and the challenges of daily life make it hard for many voters to focus on the candidates until the last minute.


Candice Miller unveils voter info center
System tells users if they're registered to vote, where to vote, how to get to polls and who is on ballot

September 6, 2002

The Associated Press

LANSING (AP) -- Michigan is leading the way nationally by offering voters an Internet site that will tell them if they're registered to vote, where to vote, how to get to their polling places and who will be on the ballot.

The new Voter Information Center was unveiled Thursday by state officials. Secretary of State Candice Miller said it's the first state Web site in the country to provide such comprehensive voter- and election-related information.

"In any election, there are always instances when voters go to the wrong polling place or assume they were registered to vote in one jurisdiction or precinct when they were actually registered in another," said Miller, who previewed the new center.

"The Voter Information Center cuts through the confusion by providing voters immediate access to the information they need, including their voter registration status and location of their polling place."

Miller demonstrated the system by entering her name and hometown of Harrison Township . A map immediately appeared showing the address and location of her Macomb County polling place.

She had two warnings: The system depends on information supplied by local clerks, and it can't force people to actually vote.

"I don't know if it will help with voter turnout," she said. "Obviously, government can't make them vote."

Miller is a Republican, but that didn't stop a Democratic state senator who has worked to improve Michigan elections from praising the Voter Information Center .

"I think it's very positive," said Sen. Dianne Byrum, D-Onondaga. "This makes it easier to fulfill your right to vote."

She warned, however, that the state must make sure local clerks are doing their job, properly registering voters and updating records for the system to work as it should.

"There's a potential weak link," Byrum said. "There needs to be stronger relations between the secretary of state and the local clerks."

The site will provide the names of statewide candidates on the ballot, but not those running for local races. It also will list ballot proposals and campaign finance information.

Voters can get detailed instructions on using the voting equipment at their particular polling place from the site, as well as updated election results once the election is over.

The Voter Information Center is produced in partnership with the nonprofit organization Publius, which concentrates on developing Web tools to enhance citizen participation in elections.

The basis for the Voter Information Center is the state's Qualified Voter File, which provides the voter registration database Publius uses to generate search results.

The Voter Information Center also interacts with two department programs -- the Citizens' Guide to Voting Systems and the Michigan Electronic Voting Guide, which was revised this year to accept candidate statements and photographs over the Internet.

The State Department said the Guide lets candidates running for statewide office post a statement and photograph. It also provides links to candidate Web sites, e-mail addresses and campaign finance reports.



New web site gives lowdown on candidates, voter precinct locations

By Kara G. Morrison / The Detroit News

   Five years ago, Vince Keenan watched a presidential election heat up and followed news reports about his hometown's school board embroiled in controversy.

   The Detroit native realized that citizens could use help to intelligently exercise their voting rights.

   It was second nature for Keenan, then a philosophy major at the University of Michigan , to tap into the Internet for information. So the thought occurred to him to create a central, unbiased web site giving Michigan voters easy access to information about local political candidates.

   That's when Keenan, with some assistance from other technical savvy volunteers, created The web site's name comes from the pseudonym Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay used when writing the Federalist Papers, the series of essays urging passage of the U.S. Constitution.

   The free, interactive web site allows voters to tap into the Michigan Secretary of State's qualified voter database. Voters can enter their name and city and see if they are registered for the upcoming election.

   The web site reveals not only the voter's polling place, but a map showing directions. also supplies a sample ballot for a voter's specific polling place, information on the voting machine being used, and even links to each local candidate's web site.

   The idea took off so well that 28-year-old Keenan, formerly a partner in a local Internet start-up venture, is working full time to pursue the project he is passionate about.

   "It's our patriotic duty to participate in democracy and make it stronger," says Keenan. "Just waving the flag these days doesn't do justice to our nation."

   Keenan, now living in Detroit , says he's looking for long-term funding to keep improving his nonprofit web site, for which he has many ideas. With their 2000 election woes, Floridians have expressed an interest in Keenan's work; he's working on a Florida version of the site.

   "Ultimately we want to take it away from just elections and have it be a citizen education web site, where it will pull up everyone who represents you, how they interrelate, and all that information," Keenan says.
Kara Morrison

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