Using the Web to Open the Political Process: A Video Voter Guide, an Online Candidate Forum, and a Window into the Telecommunications Industry’s Political Clout

Three very cool online tools have come across my desk in the past few days, each of which illuminates some part of the potential of the ‘net to open the political process up in ways that we only dream of a few years ago. Democracy won’t work if voters don’t have enough information to make good choices; here are three new ways they can get it.

First, new friend-of-e.politics Carly Dobbins-Bucklad (who joins Ha-Hoa Dang in the “when are they going to put an article together” category) writes in to show off a video voter guide for Pittsburg that she and other folks at the League of Young Voters put together. To create it, they asked candidates two questions and recorded the responses on digital video, then combined the clips on a site with more traditional voter background material. As they wrote supporters:

We’re just proud as hell to be one of the first to provide this information in a way that actually allows the average voter to sort of “meet” their candidates and hear them give their take on actual questions about issues relevant to them — especially since these days, people get more and more of their information online.

When you combine the powerful nature of video with the thoroughness of traditional text voter guides (also provided at the link above with the videos), there is an insane amount of potential to take the politicians to the people — whether they want to or not!

When the Young Voter folks unveiled the guide, they got significant media coverage, and several local pols scrambled to answer questions on-camera at LYV’s event that evening. Nice work, Carly and friends! And not a disposable video camera in sight.

Next, the Center for American Progress will be broadcasting a two-way event from the New Leadership on Health Care presidential forum in Las Vegas tomorrow. How is it two-way? Here’s what they say:

…we’ll be hosting what we think is the first-ever interactive candidate response round. As each candidate speaks, ThinkProgress readers will be able to react to their remarks and send in real-time follow-up questions. Did one candidate spark your interest? Did they say something controversial or just get their facts wrong? You’ll be able to ask the candidates follow-up questions as you watch them live. Every candidate will be asked a question from ThinkProgress readers.

So, here’s the deal: when you visit the site on Saturday morning, you’ll see two new features displayed prominently on the main page:

  • A live streaming webcast of the presidential forum
  • A form that allows you to submit a question to any/all of the [Democratic] candidates

Now, I’m usually much more of a fan of video-on-demand than of time-specific online events (what happens if I have to get up and go to the bathroom, or the phone rings, or Godzilla lurches out of the Potomac and tramples DC?), but this seems like a GOOD use of a webcast — combining the immediacy of live video with the ability to submit questions in real time. Of course, functionally it’s no different from a tv or radio call-in show, but it’s much easier to get “airtime” when you’re streaming out to the web than when you’re begging for tv time.

Finally, the Center for Public Integrity has developed an excellent web-based media-ownership tracking database: enter your zip code and the system will show you the broadcast and print media outlets based in your area, complete with a nice clickable map (one of the Christian radio stations in my home town of Palestine, Texas has a 154-meter tower? Nice!). Even better, the detail pages show the immediate owner and the parent company of each outlet (wait, News Corp owns Fox?).

Of course, CPI includes all kind of other useful information in the site, including issue background on issues and an eye-popping list of campaign contributions coming from the telecommunications industry — take a look at the numbers on this page and see if you don’t jump back in shock.

Well done all around! Three nice applications, all of which arm the common man, the hoi polloi, the rabble, the Mob, etc. (which I like to call, “my base”) with a few new tools to pry open a hole into the political system. Up the (digital) revolution! To the barricades! (I’ll bring the beer.)


Written by
Colin Delany
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