Scrutinising Democracy

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US election shenanigans can't hide from the internet.

Months before the US presidential race started, the internet was a hive of activity and discussion about it. Indeed, the election was always going to be one where electronic media played a huge role. Back in January this year Democratic contender Howard Dean was described by the Guardian as the 'web's candidate for president'.

But whichever presidential candidate you look at, they all poured resources into websites, emails and other uses of the internet - after all, in an election when over $4 billion dollars was spent on the race for the White House and Congress, there was bound to be a fair bit of cash floating around to pay for websites and email.

The Centre for Public Integrity breaks down the expenditure by the two main parties for the election and shows just how much it was dominated by hard cash - for instance both parties spent a total of $27,719,856 on salaries alone during the campaign. Unsurprisingly, though, the web presence of the mainstream election websites offered little more than the bland rhetoric and fundraising you'd expect from a US presidential campaign.

However, there were a few sites doing something different. First off, a couple of sites offered non-US citizens the chance to vote for their chosen candidate. The best of these, Global Vote 2004, recorded over 110,000 votes from 191 countries outside the US, giving John Kerry a massive victory in this online world. Interestingly, Ralph Nader did far better in the international arena than in reality, with 6.7 percent.

FactCheck.org is a website trying to 'hold politicians accountable' by examining claims in campaign advertising from the presidential candidates. Run by the university of Pennsylvania, it is a catalogue of lies. Their 'Whoppers of 2004' lists the biggest lies of the election. For instance the home page of Bush's website had an online calculator allowing visitors to calculate exactly how much more Kerry's tax on petrol would cost the voter, dependent on the make of car and miles driven. The only problem was that Kerry hadn't proposed a 'gas tax'. But don't let this make you think that the Kerry campaign was any better - check the site to see their lies.

For those obsessed by the minutiae of the election, there are many other sites listed at the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia, in their entry for the 2004 election. There are some very interesting sites listing allegations of vote rigging, as well as the failures of the electronic balloting systems used in many states.

Bush's victory has left many on the left morbidly discussing why Kerry lost - the internet blogging community being particularly bad at this - it's almost tempting to throw the famous slogan of the anti-Bush online community, 'Move On', back in the face of these obsessives. However, for those who can't get away from it, there are a number of websites which at least will raise a smile.

The spoof George Bush website is very funny, though now largely devoted to T-shirts and bumper stickers with slogans such as '51 percent does not equal a mandate' and 'You voted for Bush and all you got was this lousy thermonuclear apocalypse'.

Immensely popular is the America Says Sorry site - personal testimonies from Americans who tried to stop Bush. An attempt to counter this, by some Bush supporters who launched a 'We're Not Sorry' website, was scuppered when their site vanished from the internet - as one blogger put it, 'Perhaps the CIA forgot to pay their bills.' But I personally liked the headline on spoof online newspaper The Onion after the election, 'Republicans call for privatisation of next election'. Don't laugh - it could happen.