As part of President Jill Beck’s theme of promoting political awareness and engagement among Lawrence students this year, a team of five from Lawrence University and the University of California at Irvine put together a website: MyElectionDecision.com.It was designed with college voters in mind, and according to Robert Beck, a visiting professor to Lawrence and the principal investigator on the project, it is a way for students to explore their own ideas and feelings on issues in a more neutral way.
In a society that ” focuses so much on candidate personality,” said Robert Beck, “we were going for a more objective view point.”
The development of the website took about six months. A doctoral student of political science at the University of California at Irvine named Ted Gaulin was in charge of compiling the quotes of the candidates’ stances on the issues.
According to Professor Beck, Gaulin went to the candidates’ campaign websites and worked through and “boiled down” their statements to shortened summaries of their positions. “Some people think they’re still too lengthy,” he claimed, “but we didn’t want to dumb them down.”
The website itself was built here by David Berk, Lawrence’s Director of Instructional Technology, and senior Gregory Blike.
There are five political issues that are highlighted on the website: economics, healthcare, Iraq, immigration and energy.
They were chosen because they are the issues that polls say are the most important to the electorate right now, according to Robert Beck. But since the site is aimed at younger voters, “there are probably some issues they’re interested in that aren’t there.”
This is true, according to junior Claire Gannon, who wondered why education was not one of the issues. Gannon also found the statements in the Energy section to be quite confusing.
Along with the issues, students have critiques of other aspects of the site. Some of these students think that the website will not attract those who are not already interested in finding out this kind of information, which is part of the project’s goal — to get students to be less politically apathetic and more likely to vote.
The website might not attract the politically unaware because it is not widely publicized on campus. My Election Decision was one of the features of President Beck’s convocation speech, but not many students actually attended the convocation.
“It needs more publicity,” said Gannon, “not just an email that most students probably deleted anyway.”
According to Assistant Professor of Government Arnold Shober, the site might not appeal to some students given the high barriers to getting started, which include creating an account and checking one’s e-mail just to log on.
These barriers are what stopped Erica Hamilton, a fifth-year senior. Said Hamilton, “I would have preferred to go directly to a survey and was worried about receiving unwanted e-mails later on. That’s why I didn’t go back.”
Some students do believe it is a good starting point, though.
Freshman Jennifer Compton said she wouldn’t want to base her decision only off of what the website told her, but that it’s a “good place to learn about the issues that are out there.”
Tara Arnold, also a freshman, agrees that the site is “really straightforward and an easy way to learn about the candidates.”
As for the future of My Election Decision, Robert Beck said the site will keep going through the election.
The site organizers hope to expand the issues to include more as the campaigns continue. They also plan to eventually just feature the two candidates that receive the nominations, and perhaps any prominent third-party candidate.
In the near future, the site will organize eight-person discussion groups in which people can further discuss the candidates they support.