In my best Homestar voice: "Welcome to my web site."
Those were the words I saw while researching candidates today before the St. Paul primary election for the city council and school board. Is it wrong to dismiss a candidate based on poor web design?
Today was really a lesson in local politics. I spent 45 minutes trying to find out who was even running in today’s election. The Star Tribune’s lone article on the election (buried at the bottom of their homepage) didn’t give names and didn’t link to further resources (though I later found the Star Tribune’s voter’s guide, which they failed to link to or even feature prominently on an election day).
I went to other sites, I went to local government sites, I googled. The first place that told me who was running for city council in my ward? OutFront, a GLBT political group. Finally I stumbled across the Star Trib’s voter’s guide and was able to figure out who was who.
Sort of. All four candidates for the city council position had web sites. I happened to be the 104th visitor to one site, and it was downhill from there. Mark Roosevelt was all about the P.L.A.N.: Public safety, leadership, access to local government, and neighborhoods. That’s as specific as Roosevelt got.
Samuel Farley also had a web site. But I didn’t even need to visit themilitant.com (though I’m not sure what a socialist newsweekly for the working people has to do with Samuel Farley). His essay on the Star Tribune’s site encouraged solidarity with Cubans, Iranians, Iraqis, and North Koreans. Unfortunately, this is the St. Paul city council. Few Iraqis were voting in today’s primary.
The state of local politics isn’t looking good. But it gets better. Denise Gulner has the added bonus of an endorsement from St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly. She’s also anti-crime, pro-youth, pro-affordable housing, and pro-transportation. So’s the rest of the planet. Apparently all these politicians are paying for their web sites by the word.
Finally, we come to incumbent Jay Benanav. Despite his lame design, Benanav either has the financial muscle to pay for a whole bunch of words on his site, or he’s smart enough to realize that the web is limitless, so tell us all you can. His site is loaded with positions, accomplishments, and facts that prove he knows what’s going on in the city.
You can guess who I voted for, and while I did take a look at the issues, the simple ability of each candidate to present themselves decided it. I’m not talking web savvy, I’m talking presentation.
When I explored the school board candidates, I found a much worse problem. Twelve candidates were vying for four positions, yet of those twelve candidates,
only four had web sites. In an election where the most coverage I could find was a buried voter’s guide that offers a one paragraph "essay," two-thirds of the candidates chose not to expand on their positions with a web site. Unbelievable.
You’ll be happy to know I didn’t just vote for the four with web sites, though I probably should have. I went with a mix of the sites I could find, endorsements, and those lame little paragraphs.
It wasn’t easy. Richard Broderick has a fairly nice looking web site, though as a Green Party candidate his web site didn’t help him. He’s more interested in encouraging teens to car pool and offering organic foods in the cafeteria than any of the real crises facing the St. Paul schools. Despite what I’ve said before, Broderick’s web site really hurt him, though only because his positions. In a sense, the system worked.
Kazoua Kong-Thao also had a web site, though she suffered a similar problem as Roosevelt and Gulner. Most people are in favor of safe schools, small class sizes, and academic excellence. Unfortunately, achieving those things is another manner. Fortunately for Kong-Thao, her site did manage to convince me that she’s motivated and hard working.
Eventually I was able to tally my votes and head over to the Hamline Highrise to cast my vote with all the elderly people. My exercise in democracy took way too long and taught me that local politics is pretty lame. I would expect any hopeful city council or school board candidate to actually research the job and know what they’re talking about, to confront the important issues. I would expect them to attend a few of those meetings and know what’s not working and what they could improve upon. Don’t tell me you want better education, tell me how you’re going to do it better than the other guy. If that’s all it takes, I could mount a better campaign than many of these people.