April 5 2011
It is election time again and everyone is telling us it is very important that you vote in this election and make your voice heard. So your voice should be only heard on one day every 2 and 4 years? That doesn't seem right, does it? Voting is only one part of your civic duty and responsibilities.
We as citizens need to be more involved in the process than just on election day. How many of us contact our elected official during their term? How many of us see what bills are up for a vote? How many of you know how your elected official voted on a particular bill? We as a country seem to ignore what our politicians are really doing until the next election. It is sort of like a parent not checking on their young kids while they are left at home by themselves and then coming home and finding your home burned down to the ground. The law calls this child neglect. In case of our elections, it should be called "Voter Neglect." Most employers hold periodic reviews of their employees. We as citizens need to do the same for our elected officials. We are their bosses and it is not the other way around. If more of us did this, the lobbyists and self-interest groups would not have as much influence as they do now. So I ask you on November 2nd to "Vote and Don't Forget."
One might say, that is great, but I do not know how to contact my elected official or even find what bills are up for a vote. I have put together several online resources that makes it easy to contact and track your elected official during their term.
The first online resource is called Open Congress and it's purpose is to make Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement. Open Congress is a free, open-source, non-profit and non-partisan web resource where anyone can track elected officials, bills, issues, and even track money contributed to campaigns and elected officials. The site tracks bill in both the house and senate and how each elected official voted. You can set up an account an track or follow the bills or issues that concern you and get updates. You can even vote on the bills yourself, give personal approval ratings to Members of Congress and even write your elected official directly. The site even allows you to track the top bills that are supported by Wisconsin users of the site. There are actually close to 2,500 Wisconsin users of Open Congress.
The site even has resources, tools, and widgets that you can place on your site or even share with your Facebook friends. Here are some of the tools that you can use to educate yourself and others:
- Head to Head Vote Comparison - Compare voting records between two elected officials
- OpenCongress Facebook Application - This allows you put bills and issues that interest you on your Facebook profile
- Health Care Reform Widget - Track and display the status of major health care reform bills in congress on your site or blog.
- Bill Status Widget - Tracks the status of any bill in Congress
You should definitely take a look at this site before and after the election.
Congress.org is the next online resource to help you get informed and educated about what is going on with Congress. It is similar to Open Congress except that is focuses on making it easy to write your elected official. Over 8 millions letters have been sent to congress via Congress.org. Once you sign up for an account, the site creates a user profile where you can send letters to your officials, track your local elected official votes in Congress, get email updates on the issues that concern you and more. You can even write a "Soapbox Alert", which is a public message that other site users can read and use in their own letters to Congress. In addition to all these great tools, Congress.org writes some great articles on the political process.
Votesmart.org is a site that is described as "The Voter's Self-Defense System." You should definitely use this site before you go to the polls on November 2nd. The site has information on biographical information about candidates and elected officials, their voting records, issue positions, public statements and even campaign finances. They even have resources for candidates, journalists and teachers. They even have information about bills in each of the states including Wisconsin.
Votesmart.org created an amazing visual tool to help be a better educated voter called VoteEasy. You pick the issues that concern you and see where the candidates stand on them.
A really interesting tool is called the Political Influence Tracker, which was created by a partnership between Wired Magazine and Maplight Foundation. The tool tracks all the contributions a candidate receives and where those contributions originate from. You can embed the information on your own website or blog. Below is an example of two Wisconsin elected officials and the money they get for campaigns.
The final resource is homegrown and is called WisconsinVote.org. The site is a service of Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television. The site is a dedicated resource for Wisconsin voters.. The site has profiles of all the candidates in Wisconsin running for political office.
I hope these various resources helps you be a better informed voter and I also hope you use these tools to keep your elected officials accountable. Remember "Vote, And Don't Forget!"