Politics and the Information Superhighway

The Democracy Network        

Center for Governmental Studies

        The Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles has created a new system of digitized, interactive multimedia political and voter information. Called the Democracy Network, this new package of interactive video, textual and audio information is designed for use on the next generation of broadband cable, telephone and computer networks.
        The Democracy Network is intended ultimately to be available free of charge to elected officials, political candidate and voters. It will be available in selected interactive televisions areas around the nation and on the World Wide Web for the 1996 presidential elections.
        The network's prototype contains a new Congressional Issues feature with exclusive video materials from U.S. Senators Bob Kerrey, Tom Daschle and Paul Simon, Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Vernon Ehlers and the MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour. Also included is an Elections demonstration feature with California Gov. Pete Wilson, State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, ballot measure committees, TV and radio stations and newspapers.
        The Voting Information component of The Democracy Network contains options such as:
        • A "click" on "Elections" displays all the candidates and ballot measures: Governor, US Senator, Congressman, state legislators, judges, city council, state and local ballot measures, etc.
        • A "click" on "Governor," for example, further displays: opening video statements by all candidates along with statements on specific issues; videotaped endorsements from individuals or organizations selected by the candidates; TV, radio and print commercials supplied by the candidates; newspaper "truth boxes," commenting on the accuracy of those commercials; print materials (newspapers and magazine stories, editorials, research on election issues) on the candidate and campaigns; the top five campaign contributors for each candidate; electronic bulletin boards for voters to leave video, audio or textual questions for the candidates, with opportunity for the candidates to reply; and access to "Project Vote Smart" [web side at: http:/www.votesmart.org/] and other independent organizations with comment and information on the candidates.

Benefits of The Democracy Network

        The Democracy Network is intended to encourage citizens to communicate with each other on political issues and participate in elections; decrease political campaign costs for paid media; provide easy-to-use multi-lingual governmental information and political materials to non-English speaking audiences; and diminish the existing financial disparities between political candidates. The system is also designed for use in schools as a tool to help teachers educate students about the democratic process and community affairs.
        Because the system will be largely self-operating, elected officials and candidates will prepare their own materials (as they have done for the initial prototype) and upload them into The Democracy Network system. Participants can add new statements at any time, thereby creating an on-going debate. The system can be upgraded yearly and is adaptable to fit most platforms (e.g. cable or telephone company delivered video, broadband computer networks, CD-ROM or public kiosks).
        In 1995 and 1996, the Center plans to add new components to The Democracy Network, including digitized versions of public, educational and governmental (PEG) access channels, as well as information on current issues, local governments and the courts. When completed, The Democracy Network will thus include information on voting, information on issues, opportunities for town hall discussion, information on government, information on courts and live feeds from news organizations
        The Center intends to place The Democracy Network in working cable and telephone company interactive test beds for further refinement. It also hopes to make The Democracy Network available via high-speed coaxial cable computer networks, as well as on CD-ROMs and public kiosks. A version of The Democracy Network will also appear on the World Wide Web by the Fall of 1995.

        For information, contact The Center for Governmental Studies by: mail (10951 West Pico Blvd, Suite 206, Los Angeles, CA 90064); phone (310-470-6590); or email ([email protected]).

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Chapter Six