This article is a Candidate for the Forums.
This notice was posted on 20:20, 9 September 2006 (UTC).
Wiki Voter Guides is a location for information about the value of wiki voter guides in impacting the electoral procress, pros and cons, etc...
The General ProblemEdit
A lack of good information resources has a huge impact on politics, particularly local politics, in many regions in the United States. In California before each election, voters receive a Voter Information Guide in the mail that details all of the races and referenda items that will appear on the ballot. Each candidate is given space to explain themselves and their positions, and each ballot item allowed space for the text of the item, a pro and con view, as well as pro's response to con and con's response to pro. The result is that voters have a reasonable set of data at their disposal when they go into the ballot box on election day.
In other states the situation is quite different. For example, in Georgia, local news organizations sponsor a non-partisan guide put together by the League of Woman Voters, but many people don't know about it, it only covers some of the races and candidates, and some of the information is limited. They just don't have the resources to put out a guide as complete as the one that California produces. The result is that you go into the ballot box and there are many local offices that you are asked to vote on that you know nothing about, and you only get brief information about referenda items. People frequently choose candidates in such races whose names sound familiar, which more often then not is the product of pure marketing. Signs hammered into street corners don't tell you anything about the kind of government you're likely to get from a particular candidate.
People who don't have access to good information in advance of an election don't really know what they are missing. Partisanship is what fills the information vacuum. If you don't have enough data to pick the candidate you end up picking the party instead, and as you become entrenched in your party you neuter your own ability to influence the process and the candidates. If candidates know you'll never vote for the other party they don't need to worry about your specific interests or concerns as much. They only actively court people who are up for grabs.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has a website up about Voter Information Guides.  Only a few states have them, and few have detailed ones. One could try to convince one's state to adopt one (example: http://www.georgia-voter.info), but they are expensive, and its challenging to get a large number of entrenched politicians to agree to spend the people's money on a tool that undermines their ability to get elected on the basis of pure marketing.
There are some Internet resources that currently exist, such as Project Vote-Smart . Vote Smart an important, useful resource, but it may be more valuable to researchers then to regular voters. They do a good job of providing either too much information or not enough. Few politicians have agreed to fill out their position quiz, and they seem afraid to provide summary information about candidate positions in any other way. There is a wealth of data up there about voting records and the like, but this information requires a lot of time and effort to mine. Their coverage of local referenda lacking can also be lacking.
Pros of Wiki based guidesEdit
A wiki based voter information guide has several advantages:
- Its (relatively) cheap. Each state doesn't have to pony up millions to support it right off the bat.
- Its local. People living in your own district can provide informed data about candidates and ballot items.
- Its global. It has the potential to serve people in Democratic states all over the world. If it fosters effective dialog about issues, it might serve as an example to people living in less Democractic states.
- Its open. The people are really in control of the focus of the message. Politicians, the media, and special interests take a back seat.
- Its not afraid. Due to their collective editorial process, wikis can provide concise, easy to read information about candidate positions and referenda items without being hampered by the need that single author information sources have to establish a strict, structural means of demonstrating objectivity.
- Without active contributions from people within a district, the wiki based guide may be lacking information about candidates and issues within that district.
- It may be seen as biased if only one side of an issue makes contributions to the effort.
- The very openness of the system may be seen as suspicious for those who are not familiar with the concept of wiki development.
- Edit wars may hamper the effectiveness of the system and may drive people away or cause them to become disillusioned with the project itself.
U.S. voters would benefit from being able to enter in their ZIP+4 code and get a list of the districts they are in so that they can find out what is going to be on their local ballot. The basic information correlating ZIP+4 codes to local, state, and federal districts is available, but it can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and must be regularly updated due to constant redistricting. Project Vote-Smart's data is donated to them by one of the service providers that compiles it. Perhaps if this project reached similar stature that it could also attract such a donation. However, some software development would be needed to pull that data from CSV files into the database, make it searchable, and tie the search results back to editable wiki pages for each of the various districts and the ballot items for those districts. Of course, adding other countries into the mix involves additional complexity and expense, only truely known to those who are active participants in each country's system.
In addition, there lies the concern that political science is an oxymoron. Politics is an environment in which people will have partisan and economic interests in abusing an open information resource in order to mislead readers. Few environments exist in which abuse management in the wiki model will be put to a greater test. It probably makes sense to consider strategies for abuse management early on. Presidential candidate pages in Wikipedia were simply locked down prior to the 2004 U.S. election in order to prevent vandalism from impacting readers. Is this strategy going to scale effectively, or are new ideas needed?