By Marisa Demarco
Margie Wants to Know—Hi, I'm Margie Average. I've got an Internet connection and a computer, so maybe I'm actually slightly above average in a state as poor as this one. But that's the name, don't wear it out. Today, I want to access that so-called “public information” about local political campaigns and voting that's supposed to be available to me. I'm tired of reading about the highlights in the papers. I want to see the whole picture with my own two eyeballs.
I want to know about campaign war chests for the 2006 primary election. A Google search brings up our secretary of state's website. A link to candidate reports resides on the home page. Score! Clicking through a few more underlined links brings up a page that says, “Not all reports that have been submitted appear on this page,” but they're working on it, and there's plenty here to look at. I select a candidate and pull up a really bizarre tiff file. It's a form in tiny, blurry, totally unreadable font, and it's just one page—an unprintable page, at that.
That can't be right. Luckily, I, Margie Slightly Above Average, have a reporter friend (imagine that), who knows the trick. You have to put your mouse over the link, hold down the control button as you click on it and select “save link as.” Phew! Now I've got 58 totally unreadable pages on my desktop. It's a good thing Margie Slightly Above Average also has a printer, because I'd never be able to read about who contributed what to this candidate's campaign unless I killed a bunch of trees in the process.
What if I don't have a computer or don't know anything about using the Internet? How can I find out who politicians are taking money from without using the local media as a guide? A call to the Secretary of State's Office reveals that's just too bad. They don't do hard copies anymore. Their advice? Get thee to a library and figure out how to navigate the website.
In the days of web savvy, it seems our state has forgotten some of its constituents. There are plenty of folks around who don't have access to a computer, but more than that, don't really know how to find their way around the Internet. We'll put Margie Slightly Above Average away now and tell you that it took reporter and Calendars Editor Amy Dalness (who is fairly Net proficient) and Web Monkey Jeremy McCollum to figure out how to get those reports. Take into consideration, too, that Dalness knew exactly what she was looking for and what the documents are usually called.
So, yes, it's still technically “public” information—as long as you have a computer and know a web specialist.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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