cdpACCESS: The Good, the Bad, and the Uncertain

An online portal built for the ICC plus a policy change equals streamlined building code voting, but is the technology ready for prime time?

The ICC has more than 20,000 governmental voting member representatives. However, the ICC requires these officials to annually register in advance of a vote. Unfortunately, not all take that step, so the number of eligible voters will be quite a bit less than 20,000. But thanks to an online portal built for the International Code Council, and a policy change, all eligible voters can cast their votes without incurring travel expenses and lengthy stays out of the office.

In 2014, the ICC unveiled cdpACCESS, their new online code development platform. Designed as a way to increase inclusiveness in the code development process, cdpACCESS allows any registered user to submit and comment on code change proposals, collaborate with peers and (for ICC governmental voting member reps) the opportunity to vote.

So Much Potential

The voting function is its best feature. For those who attended the final action hearings (as they were then called) in October 2014, they were able to use electronic voting devices to both cast their votes and have those votes logged in cdpACCESS. When the vote was opened to the rest of the governmental voting member reps, the remote voters were able to see the in-person results. Those who attended could also log in and change their vote, if they chose to do so. This portal, along with the addition of Section 8.0 to Council Policy 28, was going to usher ICC into a new era of code adoption.

While cdpACCESS had undergone the expected beta testing, the ICC wisely decided to roll it out during the Group C cycle, which was largely the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) development cycle. This gave ICC a trial period of sorts, since the IgCC was one of the newest I-codes, and it was considered more manageable than the legacy codes, and it had yet to be widely adopted.

The combination of the electronic voting devices and cdpACCESS didn’t go 100% smoothly, but everyone understood that cdpACCESS was a new system, and it wasn’t going to be perfect on the first go-around. The participants were very civil and polite about any glitches that occurred.

Redundancy to the Rescue

However, the stakes were much higher in the Group A cycle, as some of the more notable codes (plumbing, mechanical, building) were undergoing deliberations. This time, the technical difficulties weren’t tolerated as well. ICC staff recognized that the in-person voters were losing trust in the electronic voting devices, so before the hearing concluded, they were scrapped in favor of hand/standing vote counts.

According to Dave Bowman, Manager of Codes at ICC, the electronic voting devices won’t even make an appearance at the upcoming Group B public comment hearings. Vote tabulation will initially be done by a show of hands. “If we’re not comfortable with that, then we’ll actually take a standing
count,” Bowman says.

If you’re at all familiar with professional sports, you know how easily teams request reviews of the officials’ calls. With the significance of the proposals on the docket, it wouldn’t be surprising to see vote counting on a number of proposals.

This method of voting will probably lead to some long days (and nights) in the hearing room. Because technology won’t be used in the hearing room, it will cause a duplication of effort for those who attend inperson. The in-person vote will set the agenda for the online voting, but Bowman explained that “this year, because we’re not using the electronic devices, the online governmental consensus vote will start at zero-zero. Those that are voting at the public comment hearing, we’ll really need to encourage them to remember to go and participate in the online consensus vote.”

Bowman said that ICC is working to remedy the problem with the electronic voting devices. They want to make sure the technology is “airtight and absolutely no way there will be a problem” in the future. But in the short-term, the time spent on hand/standing vote counts will create an extra burden on those voters who attend.

Extending the Debate

The other unintended consequence of online voting is that it opens a second lobbying period. The first lobbying period occurs during the weeks leading up to the public comment hearing. Special interest groups, from NAHB to regional energy efficiency organizations, produce and distribute voting guides. They encourage code officials to vote a certain way, and usually include rationales or reason statements.

During the second lobbying period, which will span from late October to mid-November, these same groups will be reacting to the online voting agenda, making the final push for votes in their favor.

And that’s where things get complicated. According to Section 8.1 of Council Policy 28, the following scenario is entirely plausible:
1. The code development committee votes to approve a code change proposal as submitted.
2. Voters in attendance at the public comment hearing reverse the committee action and overwhelmingly vote todisapprove the proposal.
3. The online voters obtain a simple majority and reverse the public comment hearing result, making the final action … approval of the proposal as submitted.

Worrisome Outcomes?

Believe it or not, it could get worse. Council Policy 28 does not declare a minimum number of votes for a proposal’s passage or disapproval. Because each proposal will start with a zero-zero vote total, if a proposal
is deemed inconsequential, it’s possible that fewer than 60 people could be deciding the fate of a proposal. (If you find that improbable, it happened on numerous occasions in Group B online voting.) Given the size of the voting membership, that is an alarming possibility. (Note: On page 11 of the Group A results, it states: “In accordance with published procedures, this will require a minimum of 30 Online Governmental Consensus Vote (OGCV) votes cast for each code change proposal in order for the OGCV to be considered a successful voting measure.

If the vote total is less than 30 for an individual proposal, the Final Action for that proposal will be the action taken at the hearing/two-step process, as applicable.” It is unclear whether this was a one-time decision, or a new policy. This approach is also not 100% germane to the Group B cycle, since the in-person totals will not be reflected online.)

Finally, videos of all testimony are viewable through cdpACCESS. Bowman said he “would be surprised if we didn’t know the number” of views a video receives. Conceivably, the ICC could compare the number of views with the number of votes, to get a sense of whether online voters are taking testimony into consideration. However, Bowman confirmed they are not able to correlate views to a specific voter.

The ICC has expended significant resources to increase member engagement in the code development process. Once the technology is improved and the governmental voting member representatives start using it, the development process will be as robust as ever. Until then, expect some growing pains.

Feedback Solicited

ICC recently put out a “Call for Feedback” on the code development process. They are accepting feedback between now and October 15, 2016, with additional rounds concluding on November 30, 2016 and February 15, 2017.

For more information, click here.

Mike Collignon is the executive director of the Green Builder Coalition.