Friday, November 03, 2006

Intelligent Vote

Just in time for the midterm elections, comes a site designed to help you get better acquainted with your elected officials.

The current focus of the site is the 'Should I Re-Elect my Congressman' page. Using a series of 29 issues voted upon by congress and/or senate, the page calculates the percentage with which your choices align to your current elected official in both branches. You begin by imputing your state, and choosing your Congressperson's name for a list (if you don't know the name of your representative, the site will help you locate them by entering your full nine-digit zip code in an off-site link to the House's page).

Once you've determined your representative, you can go to work on the list of issues. Each bill has a rather uninformative title such as, 'Income Tax Cuts' and 'Stem Cell Law,' and a link that sends you to a more detailed abstract of the proposed law, which will likely be necessary for all but the most politically savvy among us. You can fill out as many or as few of the issues as you would like, but as always with lists like this, the more boxes that you tick, the more accurate of a result you're likely to get.

When you've finished checking the boxes, the site displays your voting alignment with your Congressperson and two Senators. For example, mine came back: "You voted in agreement with Hillary Clinton on the bills that you selected, 67 percent of the time out of 22 bills." By clicking View Details, you get an issue-by-issue break down of how your votes aligned with each elected official, an invaluable detail, considering that very few of us consider a vote on on-line gambling and one on gay marriage to be of the level of importance.

Due to the nature of the decision making process—using congressional and senate voting records as a way of evaluating candidates, excludes challengers. You may agree or disagree with your current representative on a certain percentage of issues, but that doesn't guarantee that you'll be more or less in line with them than a representative from another party. It also neglects the painstaking thought process representatives (at least theoretically) put into the voting process, boiling issues down into easy-to-swallow abstract byte. Intelligent Voter also neglects to include third parties in its rather small collection of political links on the home page, though the real root of this criticism should perhaps be sited as a con against our current two-party system, and not necessarily the site.

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