Accountability of the Elected

So I was recently reading an article on Foxnews.com about the House of Representatives approving the reauthorization of the USA Patriot and Terrorism Prevention Act. Your views on that subject are irrelevant, my point is not to talk about the act rather the article and more particularly a function in the article.

About two paragraphs into the article there is a link in red that says "Click here to see how your representative voted". I think this is a very useful function that should be incorporated more in online news websites to increase the accountability of elected officials and to increase people's awareness of what the officials they elected are doing, or NOT doing. Actually I can't brag on it too much yet because the link tried to send me to http//*the website* instead of http://*the website* but I could type in the missing colon to get it to send me to the right place.

Anyways, before my liberal friends start hooting and hollering about how biased Fox News is, the link sends you to an 100% objective page hosted by the House of Representatives. If you ever for whatever reason wanted to go to that page the address is very complicated… House.gov.

What I think is the coolest thing about this function is that the page it send you to is written in XML. Most people have probably heard of HTML but XML can be much more useful to automate the creation of web pages using a standard format and pulling information from a database. The standard format in short shows the bills name, the date and time the vote occurred, a table with the breakdown of ayes and noes from republicans, democrats, and independents, and then a list of representatives' names who voted aye, noe, or did not vote. So say a bill is voted on today all of those numbers and names will be entered in a database and a webpage will be automatically generated to be linked to news websites for the purpose of informing the public and holding parties and representatives accountable.

The reason I think that this may be worth the trouble is that people do read the news, and with the internet becoming more a part of our lives people read the news on the internet. Very, very few people are going to go out of their way to go to the House website or the website of their rep to investigate how someone voted on an issue. However, if someone, while reading an article about an issue they are passionate about(abortion, anti-terrorism acts, tax reform, social security, affirmative action, etc) runs across a link to open a window where they can quickly find out how their rep voted I think there is a chance they may take advantage of that. I am not delusional thinking that everyone who reads any news article concerning legislation is going to double check how their rep voted, those who do will be rare but even if a VERY small percentage do check then that will be a great increase from those who went through all the trouble and leg work before.

While I don't expect it to catch on in a huge way, I do think it would be a habit that America would benefit from in the long run. I also think it is a noble step on the behalf of news agencies, in this case Fox News, to try and better inform the public of the cold hard facts involving their elected officials. If every time a controversial issue came up that you read about on the internet you checked your rep, when election time comes around you would have a much better feel of who that person is rather than just listening to both sides spin the crap out of the other guy's record until you have no idea who either guy is or what they stand for. In my case I clicked on the link and checked out Lamar Smith and saw that he voted Aye to reauthorize the Patriot Act. I gave him a little check plus in the back of my mind.

"The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch." -Michael Armstrong

Check your rep:
http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2005/roll414.xml

hj

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