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Hot on the Web

State of online campaigns

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 10, 2004
(Issue 2237, The E-Politician)

As the 2004 campaign heads into its final stretch, the Web is a mature media – and one campaigns at every level are taking full advantage of.

In fact, by the time of the 2000 election, not only were the presidential campaigns using the Internet to full advantage, but so were nearly every U.S. Senate and congressional race in the nation, plus state legislative races, city councils, even school boards.

Today, a Web presence is as indispensable a part of a campaign as phone banks and direct-mail brochures.

The entire 'Net now in play

But the Web isn't the only part of the Internet being utilized in political efforts – e-mail, too, is a crucial part of the equation.

Using e-mail to reach potential voters is more affordable than using telephone banks. How do you find e-mail addresses? The same way you find telephone numbers – buy them in bulk. And while nobody likes spam – and it's illegal in many cases – political parties and organizations are as exempt from anti-spam rules as they are from the Do Not Call list. For good reason, too – a healthy, vibrant democracy is more important than not being disturbed.

Besides, if you visit many political sites, you'll find that most contain prominent forms that allow you to sign up for e-mail alerts.

Money to be made, too

It should also be pointed out that it was a year ago that Howard Dean shocked everyone by using to come storm out of nowhere to temporarily take the lead in the Democratic nomination race. caters to any group of people who want to discuss or share a common interest, of course, but during political season it leans toward that end of things.

While is free to use, they also offer premium services – whether that pans out long-term remains to be seen, but for now they're carving out a unique niche.

Not just candidates

In addition to the political parties and candidates, there are other advocacy groups with an Internet presence. The League of Women Voters, for instance ( In California, there is the California Voter Foundation.

While both CalVoter and the League are nonpartisan educational organizations, there are of course a myriad other advocacy groups from the entire political spectrum online – everything from Planned Parenthood to the National Rifle Assocation. (Yahoo would be the best place to start looking for the advocacy group of your choice.)

And of course, supporters and opponents of the various ballot measures generally have a Web presence.

Yet more information

But beyond the ability to hear from candidates and advocacy groups directly via their Web sites is the ability to see who's supporting them.

The California secretary of state has a site where all campaign finance disclosure form results are posted for the public – Most states have similar sites.

In addition, on Election Day itself most of the major news sites will be posting the latest vote tallies on their Web sites. The beauty of the Web over TV is that on TV you have to passively wait for the announcer to get to the race you're interested in. Online, you can simply go there immediately, and get information that's just as up to date as that on the tube.

Further, you no longer need to wait for the news organizations to post the vote tallies – in California, at least, the secretary of state's office posts the results online as soon as they're officially tallied, meaning you and I can get the same vote totals as the news media, at the same time.

Unlike the last few elections, there don't seem to be any major new applications of online technology likely to surface during this election. Everyone has pretty much mastered the campaign Web site and the e-mail campaign.

What we will continue to see is a further professionalizing of those efforts – resulting in Web sites and e-mails that are just as polished and graphically impressive as the slick brochures and TV commercials we're already used to seeing.