bit-tech.net

Use the internet to decide how to vote

Posted on 4th May 2010 at 08:19 by Alex Watson with 30 comments

Alex Watson
As you’ve probably noticed, we’re two days away from the General Election. Some people might find the wall-to-wall press coverage a bit over the top. I’m inclined to forgive the quantity of it – after all, we only have General Elections every five years or so, and it is quite important, the whole governing the country thing. I’m less inclined to forgive the quality of the coverage, which has frequently been extremely frustrating if you’re actually trying to make an informed decision about who to vote for.

It’s easy to become cynical, bored or horrified by the election – and to give up on it. I’ve always thought it’s important for people to care about politics (much to the displeasure of some of my friends); ultimately, if you’re not prepared to be involved in the process, then it’s no surprise that you get travesties such as the recent Digital Economy Bill getting passed in to law.
Still, we’re all busy people. Jobs to do, homework, DIY, games to play, blog posts to write. The problem with giving a toss is that it takes valuable time. Fortunately, the internet is here to help; it makes getting information on your MP very, very easy, and in a few minutes of browsing you’ll be able to equip yourself with all the facts you need.

First stop, well, you need to be registered to vote. You can check if you are at 192.com; if you are, by now, you should have a polling card through. If you haven’t registered to vote, you should really sort that out for next time. The Electoral Commission runs its own site, About My Vote which explains how to register.

Use the internet to decide how to vote
The Guardian has a great tool for finding out about your current MP; its on the right of its General Election 2010 page

That done, you can find out about your current MP and who’s standing at this election using the Guardian’s politics pages. Scroll down and on the right you’ll see an area where you can put in your postcode. The site will then tell you what constituency you’re in, who your current MP is, and who else is standing. It also shows the MP’s majority, and roughly what swing would be needed for it to change parties. The site has a bit of information about the candidates, but not a lot. According to The Guardian, my MP "rather looks like the family optician". They're not wrong, but I’m not entirely comfortable making my voting decision based on that.

Once you know who your MP is, over at the excellent The Work For You you can get a tonne of information on them – again, just put in your postcode on the right hand side, and you’ll get a whole host of links, plus a summary of how they’ve voted on issues such student fees, ID cards and the Iraq war.

One thing that’s not there is how they voted on the Digital Economy Bill; fortunately, that’s easily sorted thanks to They Work For The BPI. A quick CTRL+F reveals my MP did indeed vote for it. Oh dear.

If you’re interested in electoral reform – then VoterPower.org is an interesting site as it allows you to get a lot of information on how marginal your constituency is – in other words, how big a majority the current MP has. It’s very much tilted towards presenting the negative aspects of the current First Past The Post system, though.

Once the election is over, a site worth bookmarking is Write To Them, which lists your MP, local councillors and various other democratically elected representatives, and allows you to send a message directly to them, as easy as filling in a comment on bit-tech. Probably best not to bother them for what graphics card to buy though.

All of these tools are very much in their infancy; a look across to the US – where the Whitehouse runs its website on the open-source CMS Drupal, releases its code back to the open-source community, and is looking to Email, Twitter and Facebook to get people’s ideas about what are the nation’s scientific and technological priorities should be – shows that politicians and the people can benefit from the web.

30 Comments

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badders 4th May 2010, 09:32 Quote
Good Post, Alex - I had to badger my wife into completing her postal vote this morning. She had seen the voterpower.org site, and decided that her vote meant so little that it wasn't worth bothering with.

I countered that she wouldn't be able to complain to me about anything related to anything the next government touches, and she relented.

Victory!
Phil Rhodes 4th May 2010, 10:14 Quote
I'm in the next safest Tory seat after Tunbridge Wells, so my vote is meaningless no matter what I do. But really, even if this was not so: the choice is an unpleasant, self-serving git in a blue tie, a nasty, narcissistic git in a red tie, or a rotten, egotistical git in an orange tie, all with an indelible attachment to doing whatever makes them popular, rich, and above all still-in-power, regardless of absolutely anything else.

So really, what's the point?
iwog 4th May 2010, 10:29 Quote
Quote:
One thing that’s not there is how they voted on the Digital Economy Bill; fortunately, that’s easily sorted thanks to They Work For The BPI. A quick CTRL+F reveals my MP did indeed vote for it. Oh dear.

At least yours voted, mine didnt even bother to show up. Plus he wont respond to any online forms or emails unlike my other candidates.
Omnituens 4th May 2010, 10:51 Quote
Nope, mine didn't vote either.
javaman 4th May 2010, 10:54 Quote
Very nice article ;) tho 192 seems to be wrong, according to it im in the 25-29 age bracket yet im only 21 =p

I couldn't care if my candidate voted, either way we're under the thumb of the big parties over there anyway so it narrows down how the list of candidates worth voting for. Im voting for a party rather than an individual otherwise I would never vote!! Either way whoever gets in im sure to heckle, Im sure they;; need it just to turn up lazy good for nothing politicians. Bet Sinn fein will get in, they don't take their seats out of protest yet claim expenses F-ing disgrace if you ask me and something that should be stopped!
kenco_uk 4th May 2010, 10:56 Quote
Mine did, he voted for it :(

Not that fussed with the General Election, I'm more bothered with the Local Elections tbh.
Threefiguremini 4th May 2010, 11:04 Quote
Good article. Great to see stuff fighting apathy.
bob 4th May 2010, 11:58 Quote
The BBC website has tons of info too. Graphs of polls, seat calculator, useful stuff.
Yslen 4th May 2010, 12:31 Quote
I'm also in a very safe Tory area (Stratford-upon-Avon) and so feel robbed of my vote - there's no chance it'll actually count for anything, as the wealthy folk of shakespeareland have been voting conservative for the last 30 years without fail.

I'm still voting, of course, even though its pointless in my situation. I'd like to see some changes made to this system; where's the point in making my vote worthless by such an unbalanced representation system if it still doesn't help avoid a hung parliament.

Puh. <Stalks off angrily>.
Sifter3000 4th May 2010, 12:34 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yslen
I'm also in a very safe Tory area (Stratford-upon-Avon) and so feel robbed of my vote - there's no chance it'll actually count for anything, as the wealthy folk of shakespeareland have been voting conservative for the last 30 years without fail.

I'm still voting, of course, even though its pointless in my situation. I'd like to see some changes made to this system; where's the point in making my vote worthless by such an unbalanced representation system if it still doesn't help avoid a hung parliament.

Puh. <Stalks off angrily>.

I see your point (like you, I'm in a very safe seat, although it's Labour, not Tory), but the more people whose vote is "wasted" (ie goes to a non winning candidate), then I think the more of an issue electoral reform becomes.
devilxc 4th May 2010, 12:46 Quote
"In Fylde, one person does not really have one vote, they have the equivalent of 0.047 votes."

Nice blog. Thanks for the links.
lewchenko 4th May 2010, 13:38 Quote
Nice article.

Sadly I live in one of those areas where your vote counts for nothing... in 2005, 52% of all votes in my area were thrown away thanks to the 1st pass the post takes ALL the seats system.

Really is an utter joke... and they wonder why apathy is so high.
javaman 4th May 2010, 13:54 Quote
I heard somewhere that labour could have the biggest party and still not have a majority/be in charge. Seems stupid in some ways
Jamie 4th May 2010, 14:50 Quote
My local MP didn't vote on the DEB, I guess he was too busy leading the party.
cyrilthefish 4th May 2010, 15:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by javaman
I heard somewhere that labour could have the biggest party and still not have a majority/be in charge. Seems stupid in some ways
They can also come 3rd in the number of votes and still get the most parliament seats. Isn't our voting system wonderful

About the DEB thing. Our MP was just brilliant on that. She voted for the bill and then announced she'd not be standing as a candidate for the election just after.
Vote for entertainment industry then run away, nice
EvilRusk 4th May 2010, 15:35 Quote
Wait, there's an election? Can we vote for James Bond now he doesn't have a job?

Our local MP voted NO on the DEB, which is a nice surprise.

The BBC seat calculator is depressing as 30% of the vote and it's a Labour Government but the other main parties need 40% to win. Add in the inevitable postal voting fraud and this is starting to look like Zimbabwe.

Can't even see any independents that look worth bothering with either. Heck I'd vote for Darth Vader.
Hovis 4th May 2010, 15:48 Quote
Whichever party gets elected is able to dig in and make it tougher for the next mob to shift them, Labour have had thirteen years to shift boundaries around so naturally they will be hard to shift. If the Tories win then mysteriously by the time the next election comes we'll probably find all sorts of new rural seats popping up. It's all in the game.

That said the Lib Dems do have a great big bee in their bonnet about electoral reform, and since they look likely to be in a position to decide what's what in a hung parliament maybe things will change.
Hustler 4th May 2010, 16:17 Quote
"Was t'internet wot won it".....
south side sammy 4th May 2010, 18:22 Quote
I'm an American and probably should not impose my thoughts but, over the past 2 or 3 weeks I was able to get a few half hours on and off listening to these candidates opine on various issues. I can't tell you who to vote for but I will say that Gordon Brown sounds exactly like an American politician.......... make up your own conclusions on that.......
Scootiep 4th May 2010, 20:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Rhodes
I'm in the next safest Tory seat after Tunbridge Wells, so my vote is meaningless no matter what I do. But really, even if this was not so: the choice is an unpleasant, self-serving git in a blue tie, a nasty, narcissistic git in a red tie, or a rotten, egotistical git in an orange tie, all with an indelible attachment to doing whatever makes them popular, rich, and above all still-in-power, regardless of absolutely anything else.

So really, what's the point?

Gee, sounds like you guys have about as much choice as we get over here in the states...
:(
SuicideNeil 4th May 2010, 21:02 Quote
Monster raving loony party ftw!
blackadda15 4th May 2010, 21:07 Quote
Quote:
Monster raving loony party cheesecake!
Thats got my vote :D
Initialised 4th May 2010, 22:28 Quote
I'd vote CURE in Brighton, anywhere else Lib-Dem #geekthevote
Initialised 4th May 2010, 23:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hustler
"Was t'internet wot won it".....
Nah, it was the #LibDemFlashmob
ledbythereaper 4th May 2010, 23:34 Quote
Local MP didn't bother voting for the DEB. Didn't respond to any of my emails either. If only there was a PPUK representative in my area I could vote for.
aron311 5th May 2010, 05:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by EvilRusk
Can't even see any independents that look worth bothering with either. Heck I'd vote for Darth Vader.

Careful, he serves the Sith Lord Mandelson..

I have to say I do like the Conservatives idea of letting people have a say in the way things are run locally, more power to the people and less centralised bureaucracy. They seem the best placed to actually implement something like this too.

God knows how things are going to actually work out though, praying somebody who has a clue is put in charge for once!
Instagib 5th May 2010, 10:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by aron311

God knows how things are going to actually work out though, praying somebody who has a clue is put in charge for once!

Who would that be then?

I just hope Gordon Brown is ousted. He was never elected. I know he was second in command of the ruling party when the PM at the time stood down, and i know that's the way it works. But i, for one, felt more than a little cheated when the man i voted for decided he couldn't hack it and left it to this coward to run the country. Who then left it late as possible to call the general election.

I bet Gordon's wishing he held one as soon as he came to power and not now, after all that's happened.
FelixTech 5th May 2010, 11:14 Quote
I was planning to vote Lib Dem on the assumption that my Tory seat would stay a Tory seat, but boundary changes mean it's now a labour majority here (Hammersmith) :S Now I'm not sure whether to help the Tories or stick with the Liberals...
FreQ 5th May 2010, 13:25 Quote
Well, my local MP didn't vote either. I don't think they realise how big a deal that bill is? I think the vast majority of MP's don't understand technology too much anyway, they are out and about all the time meeting people and "engaging the community" to keep up with the latest filesharing legislation. A shame, because it affects all of us.

Regarding voting, I just read all the policies and decide who I agree with the most, then vote. I don't agree with tactical voting, just vote who you want to get in.
slewth 5th May 2010, 16:03 Quote
Alex, great post. I know there's been a lot of focus on TV with the leader's debates, but tools such as these are bound to play a part in mobilising people. Other interesting resources are emerging from accessibility comminities - I'm thinking specifically of the Easy Read manifestos created by Elena Newly and some of the British Sign Language programming. These kinds of developments could make a big different for groups usually marginalised in the political process. Short blog post with links here: http://bit.ly/a5Et4C
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