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Penn Law Student Seeks Real-Time, Online Election Results

October 30, 2008

Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg has become a "local personality"--at least to the Free Library of Philadelphia--where officials recently asked him to join other public figures in their Banned Books Week celebration.

The third-year Penn Law student has not written a book that's been banned, but he has gained a reputation for his blog, "Young Philly Politics," and his recent campaign to get the city to share detailed real-time election results with the public and not just with the news media and well-connected politicians on a password-protected site.

The Philadelphia native made a verbal request, and later a written one, to city elections officials to receive access. He was denied. After he appealed to the city solicitor, he was granted a password.

If one private citizen could get a password, he wondered, shouldn't more have access? A fax campaign resulted in 400 requests to the election commission. As a result, the city has promised that a new, openly accessible website will be available before next week's election.

Dan, who is cautiously optimistic the city will meet the election deadline, undertook this campaign because he was "taught from an early age the government should function in service of the public good. Public interest law is the family business."  His father, Irv Ackelsberg, was with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia for 30 years.

As for being labeled a "personality" - his efforts have been noted in a New York Times blog--Dan says, "I'm flattered, but at the end of the day, I have to be cognizant that no one elected me. I'm just a person with a megaphone."

He began the Young Philly Politics blog in December 2004 as an outlet for young people who had become active in Sen. John Kerry's unsuccessful presidential campaign. He wanted to be sure their energy was captured and redirected to local politics.

Eventually, he'd like to take the blog statewide. "The blog has helped people in disparate parts of the city interact around important political issues. I'd like to do that for the state."  In addition, he's considering creating a non-profit organization with a board to run the blog--so that he's no longer the "person with a megaphone."

For his own future, he's interested in a career as a Philadelphia public interest lawyer. "I'd like to work for the public good while maintaining my Olympic dreams," he says with a shrug that suggests he finds his own words slightly corny. But it's not a pipe dream. Last year, he took time off from Penn Law to train for the Olympics in the lightweight double sculls. After winning U.S. Olympic Trials, his double narrowly missed out on a trip to Beijing.

"I'm trying to navigate what happens next.  I've got over $100,000 debt, I want to retire from rowing on my own terms, and I want to work for the public good."