Candidate data is offered on Web

National election project is available for local races at DNet.org

Howard County

August 30, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With Maryland's primary election less than two weeks off, voters who suddenly want more information about candidates can get it - even at 2 a.m.

The national Democracy Net project of the League of Women Voters is available via computer for Maryland's state and county elections for the first time this year, and it provides more than just the basics.

Without spending money, candidates can display their pictures, resumes, goals and positions on issues in one place where voters can bone up without having to search newspapers daily or wait for a printed voters' guide.

FOR THE RECORD - In an article in Friday's Howard County edition of The Sun about a new Internet election information service offered by the League of Women Voters, volunteer Margo Garner's name was misspelled.
The Sun regrets the error.

For local candidates who may be lucky to see their names in print twice during a campaign, it can be a boon, though it is not clear how many Maryland residents know about the DNet.org Web site.

"That's the unknown. Only one person has told me they went on the site, and to tell you the truth, that was another candidate," said Douglas B. Riley, a Republican running for Baltimore County executive.

"I look on this as the wave of the future. A voter can read a statement and then click on the opponent. It's a comprehensive review of what the candidates are saying," said Tony McGuffin, a Democrat running for House of Delegates in Howard County's District 9A. And unlike the paper voters guide, candidates are not limited by space.

Nationally, last year, according to Lu Pierson, the league's DNet manager for Maryland, there were a million "hits" by noon on election day from people who wanted last-minute information before voting. "We've been trying" to spread the word, she said. "It amazes me that they [voters] hit like they're cramming for an exam," said Jackie Mildner national director of E-Democracy for the league. "The site takes off after Labor Day," she said, but so far this year, the league has 22,000 candidates listed, and has had 15 million hits.

The project began in 1996, covering the presidential race and elections in California and Washington. It expanded to more than 17,000 candidates in 7,000 local elections by 2000. Word of the site is beginning to spread locally, too. "We are beginning to get some actual candidate participation, which is the object," Pierson said.

This year, the league depended more on volunteers like Margo Garon, 86, a past Howard County league president, who volunteered to enter all the information from her retirement apartment in Columbia. "For a period of three weeks, I spent most of my time at my computer," the North Carolina native said, adding that she did not mind the work.

As someone who began a 29-year federal career with the Army Signal Corps in 1943, and retired in 1972 from the National Security Agency, Garon knows about computers. She bought her first personal computer - an IBM PC - in 1981, and got a new Dell this spring. For Howard's candidates, she electronically copied each name and address from the state elections board Web site as candidates filed, then sent them either computer or paper mail messages soliciting their participation, along with a password to gain entry.

Some who did not respond directly, but who had filled out and returned Maryland league questionnaires, found that information posted on the Web site, too, courtesy of volunteers like Garon. The league does not edit anything, she said, allowing the candidates to say what they want.

Some more savvy office-seekers submitted photos of themselves and directly entered information, answering issue questions and adding new issues if they wished. Users can also suggest new issues, and whenever a candidate submits a new statement or position, that is automatically e-mailed to the other candidates in the race, who may then respond.

Some candidates complain that they must spend 20 to 25 hours filling out questionnaires from interest and public service organizations, and they see DNet as one more chore. "I don't have time to have this chit-chat. It's overkill," said Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard Democrat. "I just didn't get around to it," said Diane Wilson, a Republican Howard County Council hopeful. "I dont know that many people who are impressed with it."

But Ada Bohorfoush, a Democrat without much money who is seeking to become a delegate in District 13, said, "Anytime you can get your position out there, it's helpful."

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