According to the Web site for the Federal Election Commission, less than fifty percent of citizens eligible to vote turned out to cast a ballot in the 1996 United States presidential election. This is the first presidential election recorded to have such a low turnout. And I would bet that if you asked the man on the street why they didn't vote, the most popular answer (after sheer apathy) would be along the lines of "I didn't know what their policies were."
This has been a flimsy excuse ever since public libraries began subscribing to newspapers and popular magazines. But now, in the Internet age, it's even flimsier. The information is free, it's accessible everywhere, and thanks to search engines, it's ridiculously easy to find.
Candidate information isn't restrictied to the Web sites that the campaigns, lobbyists, and political parties put online to promote their candidates. Every major and semi-major newspaper and news magazine in the country has a Web site which archives news, press releases, tours, opinions, and letters to the editor about the national and local candidates. Web sites large and small exist which provide political information on all the candidates. Even Everything2 can be a wealth of facts in this regard, if only to point you in the right direction.
Sure, they're all biased to one degree or another -- that's what politics is all about. But you have no excuse for not finding another URL for information biased the opposite direction, or for looking up a speech transcription to get the candidate's views from their own mouth and in context. The more views you have to compare side-by-side, the better the chance you have of getting to the real truth about what a candidate will stand for.
And the best part is that, with the World Wide Web and it's wealth of search tools at your disposal, your quest for truth doesn't even have to take very long. Want to know what the candidates' views on abortion are? Fire up Ask.com or AltaVista or Google and type your question right in. How about their voting records on technology issues? Or what they've gone on record saying about the Vietnam War? Or their popularity rankings among Californian vegetarians? Do the same thing, and keep doing it until you've found out what you want to know. You can get a quick answer inside of ten minutes, and a comprehensive one in under an hour. Eight years ago, you would have had to use a microfiche machine at the library and an entire weekend to burn. Nowadays the software exists to do all that dirty work for you.
Democracy is, it is generally agreed, the single best form of representative government that exists. But it only works if people vote intelligently, casting their ballots for the candidate they believe best represents their interests. Our founding fathers rejected blacks, women, and poor people from the election process because it was believed that they lacked the intelligence to vote with wisdom. Today that's no longer true; just about everyone has the intelligence now. What most of them lack is that second component of wisdom: education.
So if you're bored this weekend and can't think of any new sites to surf to, try the home page of your favorite network or cable news station. Find that little "Search" box and type in the name of the candidate you're most curious about, whether Republican, Democratic, or independent. You may laugh, you may groan, you may wrinkle your brow in confusion. But I can guarantee that if you keep it up long enough, you'll come away knowing exactly where he or she stands on the stuff that's most important to you.