August 28, 2008

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Web of politics
Get informed without leaving home
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

It’s approaching political silly season once again in New Hampshire, with state primaries on Sept. 9 and, of course, the general election on Nov. 4. Unlike the famous presidential primary, getting information on local and even state-wide races can be tough if you’re not paying religious attention to your newspapers.

For both local and national elections, the Web can be a big help. For everything from position papers to polling places, you can learn just about everything you need to without leaving your desk.

For a start, check out the Secretary of State’s elections Web page. There’s a 2008/2009 political calendar, absentee ballot applications, recent election law changes, city clerk contact information, voting districts, polling places and a lot more. You can even learn how to run for office yourself, though you’re a bit late to run this year. www.sos.nh.gov

There’s a wealth of information on your town or city’s Web site, too. If you’re not sure if your town has one, it probably does — the state maintains a list of them. What can you find there? How about sample ballots, so you know before you enter the voting booth what you’ll be deciding on? City and town clerks are required by state law to post sample ballots in two public places, and while posting them online isn’t mandatory, they usually do put them up. In addition, you can probably find your polling places again, municipality-specific laws and perhaps even full text of legislation being affected by ballot questions. www.nh.gov/municipal

Once you’ve Googled the names of every candidate on your ballot to find their official campaign Web sites, don’t forget to look them up on Wikipedia as well. OK, maybe the biography of the current Litchfield Road Agent doesn’t quite rate the online encyclopedia, but there are a surprising number of people on there. All the content on Wikipedia is user-generated, so if someone takes enough interest to write it up, it’s there. Members of Congress are all there, as well as many past and prospective members. You can even make your own edits, though excessively biased or plain incorrect things will be quickly removed. www.wikipedia.org

In your Web browsing, you’re bound to come across so-called “facts” that just don’t seem quite right. For example, did you know that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Indonesia, and Navy veteran John McCain crashed five of his own fighter jets? Those two statements, right there, they’re not exactly what we call “true,” but they’re treated as such by a few extreme partisans. The Annenberg Political Fact Check specializes in debunking just these kinds of rumors, smears, mischaracterizations and out-and-out lies. They’re a nonprofit running at the University of Pennsylvania. www.factcheck.org

If, like Dick Cheney at the 2004 vice presidential debate, you think that last address is a .com (true!), try Snopes instead. More a general debunking site that picks apart every e-mail chain letter your Aunt Mildred ever sent you, they also do political stuff. www.snopes.com

Finally, for a good summary look at national polls, check out RealClearPolitics. While the site’s creators are unabashed fiscal conservatives and their opinion pieces can reflect that, their reports, maps and charts on opinion polls are invaluable to political junkies. You can track national candidates’ chances over time and make your own electoral college map. The site also collects articles from around the Internet. www.realclearpolitics.com

Sick of elections yet? Only two months and change to go!