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March 3, 1996

Democracy veers
into cyberspace

By Timothy C. Barmann

Of course the Founding Fathers couldn't have imagined it, but the Internet could well be the tool to help bring back their vision of citizen participation in the electoral process.

Presidential candidates well-versed in the age-old traditions of campaign stumping have quickly found the virtual trail in cyberspace.

And hundreds of election-related sites by voter groups and citizens have emerged on the World Wide Web that inform, enlighten -- and even entertain -- Net voters.

Take Brown University physics research professor Paul Mende's Web site (http://pfm.het.brown.edu/people/mende/steps/). There you will find sound clips from the Capitol Steps, a Washington-based troupe of current and former congressional staffers who have put their biting political satire to music.

Mende, a fan of the group, decided to help promote their musical parodies beyond the Beltway by setting up a Web site for them.

Among the songs you can hear is a lampoon of a Pat Buchanan campaign speech called Favored Right Wing, sung to the tune of My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. Mende put it up shortly after Buchanan's narrow victory over fellow Republican Bob Dole in the New Hampshire primary:

Dumping on low-lifers, wimpos and floozies
Stumping for pro-lifers' right to own Uzis . . .
These are some things favored by the right wing . . .

But Mende, who said he chooses the songs based on current events, said the satire swings at both Democrats and Republicans. ``I try to keep it nonpartisan, or antipartisan,'' he said. (There is a link to a Newt Gingrich fan club as well.)

Other election-related Web sites of local interest:

The staff at Secretary of State Jim Langevin's office has been busy updating and revamping its Web site(http://www.sec.state.ri.us/) for Tuesday's Rhode Island presidential primary.

Among the features expected to be added is a page that lets voters find out where their polling places are by typing their names and addresses on electronic forms, said John Tabella, Langevin's chief of staff.

The site will also have sample ballots for presidential candidates and their delegates for the two Rhode Island congressional districts, he said.

If all goes well, Internet users will be able to see actual numbers from Rhode Island's polling places on the Web the evening the primary polls close.

The Providence Journal Co.'s online service, Rhode Island Horizons, has put up a special Campaign '96 Web site (http://www.projo.com/horizons/elect96/) and hopes to display election results on Tuesday evening.

Horizons editor Andrea Panciera said she expects to post charts that list results by candidate and by each of the state's 39 cities and towns. The charts will be updated two or three times as the numbers come in that evening.

Horizons poll results will come from several hundred poll runners the Providence Journal has hired to phone in vote counts shortly after the polls close. The newspaper has used its own vote collection and tabulation system for at least 30 years, said Gordon Smith, Journal-Bulletin elections coordinator. The runners provide early results for the news staff and the next day's paper. It will be the first time the newspaper has made its results available online.

``We view this as a test for the elections later in the year,'' Panciera said.

Horizons will also post election stories from the Providence Journal staff, she said, probably between 11 p.m. and midnight the night of the primary.

The site has up-to-date news stories about the presidential campaign, as well as links to other election-related sites on the Web.

Among the links Horizons points to is Brown University's site (http://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/Special_Reports/ProJo_96/) for the annual public-affairs conference it holds with the Providence Journal, which took place last week. This year's topic was ``Democracy in America: Does It Still Work?''

Though the conference is over, you can read the results of the national poll, which was taken to gauge citizens' perceptions of the effectiveness of our political system. It was conducted by Darrell West, a Brown professor of political science, and his colleagues at Brown for the Providence Journal.

And if you don't mind homework, Brown is offering an online political science course, also called ``Democracy in America,'' as a follow-up to the conference.

The course, to be offered by e-mail, will examine ``some of the hottest topics in electoral politics today,'' according to Brown. The six-week course that begins Friday will be moderated by West and Brown faculty members Thomas Anton and Wendy Schiller.

You need an e-mail address to participate. The cost is $90 for people living or working in Rhode Island, $75 for alumni and parents of current Brown students, and $125 for all others. Registration ends Thursday. You can register by e-mail at Continuing_College@Brown.edu.

For more information, call Andrew Shaindlin at 863-3309, or see the Brown University Interactive Network (BRUIN) Web page at http://www.brown.edu/Administration/Alumni/bruin.html

Voting out the machines

If Langevin gets his way, Tuesday will be the last time Rhode Island voters will cast their vote on the antiquated voting machines used here for a half-century.

For nearly two years, Langevin has been pushing optical scanning technology to replace the old machines. These devices, which read penciled marks on ballots, work like the lottery machines that scan tickets in convenience stores.

Legislation that Langevin has proposed to change the state's voting system has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously, John Tabella said. As of this writing, the bill has yet to be considered by the House. It needs to pass by the end of this month for the system to be working by the September primary for local races.

So bring your camera with you to the polls Tuesday. It may be the last time you'll see those gray, mechanical monsters before they become museum pieces.

Other cool election sites:

Computer calendar

Thursday -- The New England Regional Computing Program (NERCOMP) is sponsoring a workshop at Brown University on computer training. The workshop, which is open to the public, will examine World Wide Web publishing, using the Web in the classroom, and strategies and options for delivering departmental computer training. Location and time: Brown's Sharpe Refectory, 144 Thayer St., from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Cost: $50 for NERCOMP members, $125 for non-members. For more information, call (508) 682-4100, send e-mail to nercomp@world.std.com, or visit NERCOMP's Web site at http://www.dartmouth.edu/nercomp

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff photographer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.