One month before election day is an excellent time
to take a look at political resources on the Internet. This is
the first time that a presidential election is taking place with
a presence on the World Wide Web. Political candidates, news resources,
and government agencies have all rushed onto the Internet in the
past two years. This is one of the most rapid changes in the way
information about our legislature is disseminated. The revolutionary
nature of this change rivals that of the printing press as a means
of enhancing information flow. The ponderous bureaucracy of government
has suddenly rendered vast amounts of material instantly available
to millions. These readily accessible online resources include
the full text of bills, the Federal Register, Congressional Record,
selected committee reports, and even the U.S. code. Legislators
have their own home pages highlighting their speeches, committees
they serve on, and frequently have information on their home states
available by hypertext links.
Independent organizations such as "Project Vote Smart"
(http://vote-smart.org/) have thorough
databases of political activity. You can even find your representative
by zip code. Voting records are readily available, sorted by bill
number and issue. Lists of committee membership, political biographies
and information on campaign finances are available. Project Vote
Smart also lists many organizational ratings of your legislator.
Their National Political Awareness Test is distributed to all
candidates for state and national office. The emphasis is on positive
steps a candidate would take to solve a variety of problems. It
is issue and action oriented and is definitely worth looking at
before this year's election. All state and national campaigns
are expected to be covered. There are biographies here of not
only national legislators but also those of your state assembly
The power of the Internet is in its use as a source
of obtaining information and rapidly transmitting it. For political
action its value is only beginning to be realized. The current
ease of an individual or a group to become informed about issues
via the Internet is unparalleled. You can quickly check the voting
record of your favorite legislator and see who has funded their
campaigns. You can look to see how almost any rating system has
ranked them. If they have introduced a bill into Congress, you
can track it via the House or Senate web sites. You can read and
save the full text of the bill. Debates can be followed by searching
the online Congressional Record. Rules and regulations that are
published in the Federal Register can also be read and saved.
The Internet is a remarkable facilitator of the democratic
process by virtue of its intrinsic capability to enable the free
flow of information. As we have discussed, a group can readily
access and share information on the issues that affect them. PPAC,
the APMA and other groups should easily be able to use this medium
to distribute information, allowing for rapid response to changing
conditions. Mailing lists, web sites, and even chat areas can
be used to enhance understanding and educate a group about relevant
issues. It is quicker and easier to give feedback, by e-mail than
by filling out a paper based questionnaire and returning it by
mail. Many organizations have set up mailing lists for their members
to facilitate information exchange or to be used as a bulletin.
The cost is low and the information gets to you rapidly. In a
future column we'll take a closer look at mailing lists.
The Internet has been used for online letter writing campaigns, electronic petitions and to distribute information to and from organization lobbyists.
It is more effective when used in conjunction with
an effective lobbyist than by a sole individual. Senator Patrick
Leahy, a few months ago, did take a nearly six inch stack of an
electronically signed petition onto the Senate floor during a
debate on a resolution. This stack contained the electronic signatures
of more than 100,000 petitioners.
Politics Now (http://www.politicsnow.com/)
is an Internet site that purports to present a balanced view of
political issues. It is supported by ABC News, the National Journal,
the Washington Post, Newsweek Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times.
Every day pressing issues are presented with background information
and the ready availability of opposing view points. Each week
several polls are taken. The true political junky is invited to
take the Politics Now Quiz, which covers candidates, conventions,
and elections in minute detail. This site is worth visiting before
and after the election.
With the panoply of health care issues appearing
on the horizon, the Internet is a tremendous resource for keeping
informed. The material available is comprehensive and voluminous.
Preliminary and final regulations on Medicare are issued in the
Federal Register which is available through the Government Printing Office at:
Let's now look at the tracking of a recent bill.
Using Thomas, (http://thomas.loc.gov/),
the web site of the Congress, you may look up legislative activity
by title, bill type, or number. Looking under title, we find the
"Health Insurance Portability bill" which is H.R. 3103.
The full text is available, along with the information that Representative
Archer was the sponsor and that it became public law on August
21, 1996. The complete legislative history of the bill is available
along with references to the Senate version, conference reports
and discussions entered in the Congressional Record.
This year, before you vote, check out the candidates
on Vote Smart Web. Even if you think you know how you will vote,
it is worth looking at the positions of the candidates. After
the election make sure you return to both the Vote Smart Web and
Politics Now to keep abreast of the issues. In the future, when
you read about upcoming legislation or enacted rules, follow the
progress and read the final regulations on the Internet.
List of Links From This Article:
Project Vote Smart
Government Printing Office