[Cybertalk logo] Copyright (c) 1996 by Timothy C. Barmann. This article is intended for personal viewing only and may not be re-distributed in any form. Please e-mail link requests.

October 27, 1996

Election Web sites proliferate --
but is anybody checking in?

By Timothy C. Barmann

It must have been a prime-time first.

Bob Dole's final remark at the closing of the first presidential debate was a plug for his campaign World Wide Web site.

"If you really want to get involved, just tap into my home page -- www.dolekemp96.org. Thank you. God bless America."

The 73-year-old Republican candidate was surely trying to show how hip he is, though he made a minor gaffe -- he left out the second "dot" as he spelled out the address. Even so, his remark illustrates how the Internet has permeated American politics.

During the 1992 campaign, most candidates and voters had not even heard of the Internet. Today, there are thousands of World Wide Web sites devoted to the upcoming election.

Some offer information or services to the average citizen that simply didn't exist before this election season.

One such site is MCI's "NetVote '96," where Internet users could register to vote. Some 43,000 did, according to the site (http://netvote96.mci.com/).

Other sites offer reference information. If you desire, you can read every word spoken by Dole and President Clinton during the debates on All Politics, courtesy of CNN and Time Magazine. Or you can listen to those debates at http://www.politicsnow.com/news/debates/debateaudio/ as recorded by ABC News.

You can see who's been giving money to which congressional campaigns at a site that uses Federal Election Commission data. It's run by a former FEC programmer, Tony Raymond, who writes that he's doing this "for kicks."

There you can learn that among the donors to Patrick J. Kennedy's re-election campaign was the American Dental Political Action Committee -- they gave him $500 in March. Rhode Island candidates finances can be viewed at http://www.tray.com/fecweb/1996/states/ri_01.htm.

Candidates' views

 [Screenshot from Mayer's site] Many election web sites are established by the candidates themselves.

In Rhode Island, two have been set up by the candidates for U.S. Senate: Republican Nancy Mayer (http://www.mayer96.org) and Democrat Jack Reed (http://www.reed96.org).

Mayer's site went up in early October, and like many campaign Web sites, it looks like an elaborate brochure for the candidate. She lists her stands on issues such as abortion, education, the environment, welfare reform and women's rights.

But the site is less polished that one might expect. There are two obvious misspellings. On a page with links to other political sites, the word "politically" is misspelled in a huge heading. Under a page listing Mayer's accomplishments, there is a typo in the word "treasurer" (as in her title, General Treasurer).

Reed's site suffered from a more serious problem last week: You couldn't see it. For about a week, until last Wednesday, a cryptic message occured when trying to load it: "The server does not have a DNS entry." Translation: The computers that keep track of Internet addresses didn't have a listing for Reed's site.

The site has been up and running since this summer.  [Screenshot from Reed's site] But last week the Virginia company that registers most Internet addresses reported that the address used by Reed's campaign -- reed96.org -- was "on hold." That means the company had shut off service to the site, which is typically done when the address holder fails to pay the $50-a-year registration fee.

Reed spokesman Todd Andrews expressed surprise that the site was down.

After some checking, he called back to acknowledge that the campaign had sent in its payment late due to an "accounting glitch." After about a week of being offline, service was restored on Wednesday.

Andrews said no one had called to complain that they couldn't get into the site, and the campaign office didn't notice it was down either. It makes you wonder whether anyone is really looking at these sites.

Andrews said that the Reed site had thousands of visits during its first two weeks of operation and that it proved a valuable resource for reporters looking for Reed's views on various issues.

Anybody out there?

But a national study indicates that few people may be looking at political sites. USA Today and IntelliQuest, a research marketing firm with offices in Texas and London, did a study called "Politics and the World Wide Web." It found that only one in four Web users looked for on-line statewide election information during the previous six months. The survey was done in April.

Exactly how the Internet will affect this election is, of course, still a question. The IntelliQuest study indicates that its impact will be minor. Only 3 percent of Internet users said their views about specific candidates were changed by what they found on the Internet.

However, Michael Capochiano, a project manager for IntelliQuest, cautions that the survey was taken when the election wasn't on most people's minds. "I would not be surprised if usage ... has gone up significantly since April."

The ultimate use for the Internet would be to allow people to vote on line. But security experts are still working to make credit-card transactions air-tight, so it will likely be a long time before voting happens.

In the mean time, you can still cast your vote in at least one contest on the Web. That's the one to find which of 43 different hairstyles worn by First Lady Hillary Clinton people prefer. The address is http://frost.hillaryshair.com/vote/Gallery.shtml.

Local election links

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. 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.