How to find and use voter information on the Web
'If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers.' (Gravity's Rainbow, p. 251)
Jim Cerny and Al Harper
A number of Web sites on the Internet are designed to help voters make informed decisions for the 2008 Presidential election. We've organized a list of links to some of the sites with a brief description of the site — and as far as we can judge these sites are non-partisan with respect to individual candidates. And these links are not specific to the early New Hampshire primary on January 8, 2008, but are useful throughout the primaries and campaign until election day next November.
(Jim Cerny photo)
1. General Media Information
Most of the major media offer profiles and information about the Presidential candidates. We like CNN's site, because it is comprehensive and easy to navigate:
CNN Election Center 2008
And if you get tired of being serious, you can play a game of Presidential Pong with any two candidates of your choice!
There are Web sites that try to extract information from campaigns to allow comparisons on issues. How well this is done varies widely, but see:
A special feature here is that you can work backwards to select the candidate who most agrees with your views.
The Presidential Candidate Selector lets you answer a series of questions on the issues and then, being careful to bypass an ad that appears, you will get a ranking of candidates.
2. Campaign Contributions:
This is an easy-to-use site for looking at where political contributions are coming from and who's getting them. For example, on the front page enter the 03870 zip code for Rye in the "Who's my rep" box. You then have several interesting choices. Let's say you want to concentrate on who is giving money in Rye. Click on "Top contributors". Then click on "indivs search for 03870" to see all contributors. Or if you pick the "Presidential" tab it shows the whole Boston metro area, which includes the Seacoast. But you can get a map of the locations of just Rye contributors if you click "View the contributions." The left side of this site has an exhaustive index including Congressional Pay and Pensions, Hard and Soft Money, Lobbying, PACs, and prior elections data. There is much more we haven't explored.
Federal Election Commissionhttp//www.fec.gov/finance/disclosure/disclosure_data_search.shtml/
The FEC (Federal Election Commission) database can be searched in various ways. You would suppose the results should be almost exactly the same as searches from OpenSecrets, but we haven't confirmed that. So, on this page you can click on "Individual search" and then try "Advanced Search" and then fill in the blanks for zip code (03870) and the date range for 2007 and see individual amounts reported. This site also covers enforcement and reporting and compliance for Senate candidates. One interesting listing is the VAP and personal spending thresholds by state. (VAP stands for Voting Age Population.) Click on "Site Map" at the top; page down to "Law and Regulation" and click on "Bipartisan Reform Act"; this brings up the VAP and Personal Spending Thresholds for Senate Candidates. This is a very interesting page. It shows how the VAP, by state, controls the amounts spent. If a Senate candidate's opponent spends personal funds that exceed a certain amount, the candidate may accept increased individual contributions, etc.
3. Fact-checking for accuracy in the media and in the campaigns of candidates.
It is a little more difficult to be sure that these groups are non-partisan, but we think the following are:
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
This is a multi-source listing of pertinent information including "Washington Post", "New York Times", "Newsweek", Los Angeles Times", etc. Archival articles over the past few years are also included. Some questions are presented in informal debate style of spin and counterspin format.
Factcheck.org -- the Annenberg Political Fact Check at the University of Pennsylvania
This page has a listing of questions submitted and answers on the left and a listing of "Recent Postings" on the right that can be clicked for more information. These postings are reasonably balanced: for example, the Giuliani campaign says his immigration policy in New York was not like that of other cities — not true; for example, Edwards vows to take away congressional health insurance — but presidents can't do that; for example, no cameras doesn't mean no fumbles at Democratic debates; for example, falsehoods, exaggerations, and stumbles can occur at GOP You Tube debates.
Media Matters for America
This is oriented to report on conservative distortions, not all media or reporters across the spectrum. This site lists three major stories at the top. On the left is a "Column" section followed by a list of Topics, Media Personalities, Radio/TV, and Networks/Publications. Each of these sections has many sub-topics. On the right is a list of "Latest Items" covering the last three or four days. Media quotes range from interesting to trivial as one might expect.
4. Using new media
Candidates and journalists are making much use of new media — videos, blogs, wikis, shared picture galleries, and social networking. To try and sort through all this see TechPresident:
A feature on YouTube is YouChoose'08, which lets you watch videos of the major candidates, organized by issues:
Going back to TechPresident, there are graphs that show the cumulative viewership by day of candidate videos on YouTube!
Slate.com has a dynamic Google mashup
that lets you map where candidates have been campaigning, selecting candidates of interest, geographic area, and date range:
You can zoom in the usual way to inspect an area like New Hampshire in detail. To control the date range shown, there is a graduated bar across the top of the map. And there is a key that identifies the symbol used for each candidate. The result is like this:
New Hampshire campaign stops, all candidates, from December 1st - 20th. (from Slate.com)
When at the starting map on the Web site, notice there are some shortcuts toward the bottom that will bring up maps of specific hot-spot states.
(Jim Cerny photo)
The Election Division on the New Hampshire Secretary of State's Web site is a basic starting point for information specific to New Hampshirehttp://www.sos.nh.gov/electionsnew.html
with links to voter registration information, town and city clerks, polling places, and much more.
Another approach to much of the same information is via the League of Women Voters election information. Go to this site and select New Hampshire or other state of interest:
The New Hampshire Political Library has the goal of promoting political awareness and engagement, with a wide variety of links to more information:
And last, a site that is often cited in the news is the Survey Center in the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. The Survey Center is hired to do polling for a variety of clients:
To be well informed takes work, especially since the election campaign is so dynamic, with many months to run. Even if the thought passes through your mind, "Don't confuse me with the facts," we hope you will take advantage of the openness and choice our democracy offers you as a voter.
Copyright © Rye Reflections 2008. All rights reserved.