DNet.org site offers online voters guide

National election project available for local races

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 picture, resume, goals and positions on issues in one place where voters can learn without having to search newspapers 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 might be lucky to see their names in print twice during a campaign, it can be a boon, although it's 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. Unlike a printed voters guide, candidates aren't limited by space.

Nationally, according to Lu Pierson, the league's DNet manager for Maryland, a million "hits" were logged by noon last 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 [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. 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, expanding 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 such as Margo Garon, 86, a past Howard County league president, who volunteered to laboriously enter all the information.

"For a period of three weeks, I spent most of my time at my computer," said Garon, who lives in Columbia.

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