CITYWIDE ‚Äî In case you were wondering, there‚Äôs less than three weeks left before the non-stop onslaught of electoral news coverage reaches its zenith on Nov. 6, leaving the losers to go home to lick their wounds and the winners to begin fretting about their new positions of power.
Until then, however, websites, television shows, radio stations and political ads will continue to rain down truths, half-truths and outright lies, leaving soon-to-be voters with a lot of information on their hands and just as many ways to parse it.
Fortunately, Santa Monica didn‚Äôt earn the title “Silicon Beach” for nothing.
Three websites with roots in the city by the sea each promise a window into the morass of information coming out of both local and national elections. Each has a unique twist to its product, and each is striving to be a go-to for voters locally and across the country.
These are SMvote.org, ProCon.org and TheVSsite.com.
The first is a product of City Hall in cooperation with the League of Women Voters and Center for Governmental Studies.
This recent installment of the biannual website gets down and dirty with local election issues like traffic, homelessness and the budget, and also provides a brand-new platform for candidates to get their message out through Internet video site YouTube.
It‚Äôs a one-stop-shop for local candidates and measures, designed so that voters can get their sample ballots out and make their decisions on the spot or at their convenience, said Robin Gee, Cable TV and Public Information manager with City Hall.
“Every two years we put together an election website with the goal of trying to put all of the information that Santa Monica voters need in one place,” Gee said.
The 2012 version has some new features, like access to the City Clerk‚Äôs database on campaign contributions and candidate videos that double as a YouTube channel that cover a diverse range of topics from what they would do about homelessness to their favorite thing about Santa Monica.
“It will be interesting to see how they‚Äôre used,” Gee said. “They can track their views, embed the videos on their websites and that kind of stuff.”
Each video was shot in the City TV studio with help from city staff and direction from the Center for Governmental Studies, which partners with City Hall to create new formats that give voters a different view of each candidate.
The League of Women Voters assisted with the questions to preserve City Hall‚Äôs “hands-off” policy on content creation for the site.
ProCon.org is a nonprofit with headquarters in Downtown that puts new meaning into “just the facts, ma‚Äôam.” It‚Äôs been plugged by the New York Times and is used by classrooms across the country to enhance students‚Äô understanding of the American political system.
ProCon staffers have put over 2,000 hours of work into developing its 2012 presidential election site, which shows the positions of five presidential candidates (yes, there are more than two) on 68 issues and where those positions have changed over the course of the candidate‚Äôs record, said Kamy Akhavan, president and managing editor of the site.
The site winnowed down a 400-candidate pool to five: President Barack Obama, Gov. Mitt Romney, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode.
Researchers reach out directly to candidates for their positions on topics. If they do not receive a reply ‚Äî or get a non-answer ‚Äî ProCon staffers go hunting, digging up speeches, newspaper articles and other primary source documents to pin down a candidate‚Äôs thoughts on a given issue.
A summary chart of candidate positions with links to the relevant articles has been the most popular piece of ProCon‚Äôs election site, but the organization included other key information as well to keep it fresh and informative after the election is over.
Curious Internet browsers can find transcripts of every speech and debate a candidate engaged in, financial information and even the presidential election history dating back to 1789.
“We‚Äôre not making any money off of this. We have no advertising or even a means of getting revenue,” Akhavan said. “The measure of our success is how many people find it useful.”
Given that the site broke its own one-day website traffic record on Monday with 110,831 sessions, it‚Äôs clear that something is going right for the team.
Finally, TheVSsite ‚Äî pronounced “the versus site” ‚Äî is a brand new product established by two brothers, one in Santa Monica and the other in Missouri. It has a distinctly social media feel to it, with users able to “vote” or “veto” articles that it pulls from both sides of the political spectrum to show which media outlets are covering certain topics and how they approach them.
It was born out of a political debate between Ben Lamb, who lives in Santa Monica, and his brother Jonny.
“I felt I was right and he felt he was right,” Ben Lamb said. “It got to the point we said, well state your sources, show the brass tacks.”
Each directed the other to a news article, one from a conservative outlet and the other from a liberal one, each proving their point.
They decided to create a website that featured both liberal and conservative news organizations so that people could expose themselves not only to the kind of media content they usually access, but to the other side as well.
The brothers compiled their favorite sites and blogs and used RSS feeds to take trending articles and link them to the website.
“It‚Äôs hot off the presses, filtered in multiple times a day so people can figure out what‚Äôs being said on the story,” Lamb said.
It‚Äôs good to have this kind of information available on the Internet because that is where people are going to find it, said Tracy Westen, and CEO of the Center for Governmental Studies.
The center is working to get cities everywhere to sign on to the online model.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of adults used the Internet for political purposes in the 2010 midterm election, with 73 percent of adult Internet users going online to get news or information about the election.
This year, 88 percent of registered voters own a cell phone and 27 percent of those have used it to stay up to date with election information. There is growing evidence that mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are adding to how much news people get, Pew reports.
That‚Äôs relevant to SMvote.org which, for the first time, was crafted with a technology called “responsive programming.” The technique allows the site to sense what kind of device a person is using to access the site and arranges the view for it.
“It‚Äôs malleable,” said Behrang Abadi, web development manager with City Hall. “If you were to look at the site on a desktop computer, you would see the desktop version. If you slowly minimize the window, it shifts to take advantage of the real estate available.”
After Nov. 6, media outlets and the Internet will return to their steady diet of memes and cute cat videos. Until then, Internet users have three Santa Monica resources to help them out.