The Internet has much to offer undecided voters in search of a last-minute brush-up before Tuesday's election -- even if voters haven't exactly been stampeding to campaign and political sites.
Online campaign fodder this year includes interactive voter guides, official polling-location finders, position summaries, last-minute fundraising appeals and Web versions of candidates' TV commercials.
While the Internet's main politicking still takes place in e-mail, more than 60 percent of candidates in the fall election have created an official campaign site to communicate with campaign workers and potential voters, according to a wide-ranging study by an academic Web site called PoliticalWeb.info. (www.politicalweb.info). PoliticalWeb, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that 974 of the 1,573 candidates it identified had created stand-alone campaign Web sites by early October (the figures exclude incumbents' official, government-hosted Web sites). More Republicans than Democrats had sites, and at least 90 percent offered biographical information on the candidates. Only 60 percent of the sites, though, tried to recruit volunteers online, and only 44 percent allowed visitors to sign up for a campaign e-mail newsletter.
The Web sites of Maryland gubernatorial candidates Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (www.friendsofkathleen.com) and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (www.bobehrlich.org) typify some of the less-than-lively Internet campaign fare this year.
Both are crudely designed, offer sparse interactivity and provide little information beyond a thin biographical sketch and key points from the candidate's stump speech. Both offer Web versions of their TV commercials and have a page for soliciting money, though only Ehrlich's site will actually take credit card contributions online (up to $100).
PoliticalWeb's researchers found that only 7 percent of campaign Web sites offered any multimedia by early September. But some candidates have exploited the low cost to run political commercials online. Ohio gubernatorial challenger Tim Hagan ran a humorous series of ads portraying incumbent governor Bob Taft (www.taftquack.com). In Montgomery County, GOP state legislative challenger Tom Devor published a Web site (www.silentbrian.com), upbraiding state Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D) for not speaking out against "the corrupt leadership in Annapolis."
Internet Voter Guides
Voters doing last-minute research on candidates and issues have plenty of choices online. One innovative voter guide comes from an unlikely source -- PriceGrabber, a comparison-shopping engine. The site's Election 2002 page (www.pricegrabber.com/election_attrib.php ) lets you choose an office and state, then presents you with photos and profiles of all the candidates.
The Post's washingtonpost.com, meanwhile, offers an "Election Explorer" feature with brief overviews of what's at stake in each state. The Post's Web site also has interactive versions of all the local voter guides it distributed with print editions:
www.washingtonpost.com/mdvoters, www.washingtonpost.com/dcvoters and www.washingtonpost.com/vavoters.
Where to Vote
If you forgot where your polling place is or lost your voter-registration card, your best help is your election board's Web site. But not all are equally helpful. Some sites, such as Virginia's (www.sbe.state.va.us), will let you enter your address and give you the location of your polling station. Others, including Maryland's (www.elections.state.md.us) and the District's (www.dcboee.org), present you with a list and make you figure it out yourself.
E-mail Leslie Walker at email@example.com.