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I take voting seriously. I get my primary and election ballots in advance, through Ramsey County's optional vote-by-mail system. This way I can study the candidates, and try to make intelligent choices. Alas, even with the benefit of a mail-in ballot, I often end up knowing little about the "lesser candidates", such as judges, local, county and even state offices. Often I must leave parts of the the ballot blank, rather than vote randomly.
In contrast, there's abundant information about national races in both electronic and print media. Everyone from the League of Women Voters and Project Vote Smart to the networks and newspapers covers the national contests (the quality of the coverage is, of course, variable.).
This year I tried to stir things up, and in a whimsical mood I wrote a letter to our two local newspapers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In the letter I challenged the two newspapers to use their web sites to provide the very best information on local candidates. I said I'd announce the winner of the contest on my web site. The "prize" was that our household would subscribe to the winner's newspaper for the next two years. Not surprisingly, my letters were not printed. (My wife says they have a special crank file with my name on it.)
Undaunted, I created this web page in August of 1996. I'm pleased to report that, as of November 6, 1996, the Minneapolis Star Tribune was the clear winner of this contest. They provided a very useful web site, though it could still be improved. My congratulatory letter to the Strib, a primaries report, and the original challenge, follow below. Not surprisingly, none of this stuff was every printed.
To the Editor:
I am writing to thank the Star Tribune and its web site staff for the excellence of your web-based campaign 96 resources. I am inspired in part by this morning's NPR commentary. The very knowledgeable host bemoaned the absence of precisely the resources you provided. Next time around you need a bit more publicity.
I was particularly pleased by your coverage of local elections. I did not need information on national races; those are well covered in the print media and on other web sites. In contrast, your coverage included very useful information on the St. Paul soil and water commissioner races, with links to candidate web sites when available. The peculiar results of that contest suggest many voters acted without any supporting information. They would have been well served by your web site.
The quality of your web-based resources led us to change our paper subscription to the Star Tribune. I urge you to build on this work for the 1998 campaigns. I would like to see more information available before the primaries, and at least two weeks before election day. You could integrate "voter tips" into the online "custom ballot" -- I needed help in interpreting contested judicial races. Please add judicial races and referenda information to the custom ballot; I dearly missed having background information on the referenda.
Thank you again for an excellent service. You ought to boast of it.
It's 4 days to the September 10 primaries, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune is way out in front. Their web site uses address information to produce a customized list of candidates. The list doesn't include judges, but their separate judge page provides a short bio on each candidate. In contrast, the St. Paul Pioneer Press judge page has only a list of candidates with absolutely no supporting information. Unless the Pioneer Press makes some dramatic changes, this contest will be pretty cruel.
I should like to challenge both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune to a contest. The winner shall have the privilege of supplying our family newspaper for the next two years -- until the next Minnesota Electronic Elections Challenge (MEEC, pronounced "meek").
You probably have not heard of this competition, since I invented it this morning. The goal of the competition is to assemble the best set of local election year web site resources. Coverage should focus on state and local (twin cities and surrounding region) contests. Coverage of the national elections earns few points, they are already well covered on many web sites, including Project Vote Smart's (http://www.vote-smart.org/). Coverage of local primaries, and of contests for judge or city council, earn lots of points.
These resources can include pointers to campaign pages, reprints of your newspaper's articles, and any other material you can find. Scanning and publishing campaign literature is quite acceptable. Minnesota e-democracy (http://www.freenet.msp.mn.us/govt/e-democracy/) is a nice start, but I know you can supply far more content. Don't bother with the online discussion groups.
I will be monitoring both paper's web sites, and I shall announce the winner after the election on my own web page and by another email to the editors. You needn't formally join the contest, I shall consider you already enrolled. May the best paper win!
Since Google does not use indexing information stored in meta tags, I've reproduced some of the meta tags here to facilitate indexing.
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