Shukoor Ahmed is a self-described political junkie whose passion for America's democratic process spurred him to create StateDemocracy.com, a red, white and blue Web site aimed at making it easier for voters to communicate with legislators.
"It's a simple concept," said Ahmed, 41, who immigrated to the United States from India in 1988. "It connects citizens with elected officials at the state and federal levels. With a couple of clicks, whatever you have opinions on, you can send officials feedback."
The Bowie Democrat, who has run twice, without success, for the Maryland House of Delegates, said his Web site is about making leaders and lawmakers accessible to voters.
A visitor to the free site can get e-mail addresses for officials, track legislation, compare lawmakers' voting records and even send press releases to media outlets.
Ahmed said he saw a need for such a service -- which includes legislative information for all 50 states -- during his 1998 campaign for delegate.
"When I was campaigning and door-knocking, I realized a lot of citizens didn't know who their elected officials were at the state level," said Ahmed, who runs a 12-employee software company, V-Empower Inc., and holds a master's in public policy from American University.
"In order to strengthen democracy, you need to have informed citizens," he said.
He began to build StateDemocracy.com in 1999 and soon brought aboard partners Ken Laureys and Jamie Schloss. In 2002, the site became part of the nonprofit State Democracy Foundation, which he and his partners formed. He hopes to obtain grants to help keep it going.
"I'd like to get the message to citizens that, hey, this is a site that is a one-stop click away from contacting their legislators on any issue and enables them to provide input on critical legislation," said Ahmed, who along with his wife, Nabeela, a pharmacist, is a naturalized American citizen.
The couple has two daughters, Raaheela and Shabnam.
"People are busy, generally, and sometimes you want to have an influence but don't have much time," he said. "This site makes it much easier for busy people to be a part of the process."
His own political activities have included holding office in local Democratic clubs and organizations and working in 1999 as a legislative aide to then-state delegate John Giannetti, who is now a state senator. In 2002, besides running an unsuccessful campaign for state delegate, he served as director of technology for Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson's campaign.
He's interested in running again for public office, despite his losses.
"I may run again in 2006 [for] state delegate or state senator," said Ahmed, adding that an eventual run for Congress was not out of the question. He believes his experience as an immigrant helps him appreciate the Founding Fathers' work.
"For a person who has come from a different part of the world, America's democracy is an amazing process," he said. "In order for the system to work, everybody has to do their part. And I think sometimes people don't want to be part of the game, and that's part of the down-side." His hope, though, is that StateDemocracy.com will make it a little easier for people to get into that game.
"The best part of democracy is that it doesn't exclude people, but includes people," he said. "That's one of the beauties of America, the inclusion and the opportunity."