October 26, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
On Web standards, Libertarian candidates win
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"The notion of being able to reach the full range of people that make up voters is good enough reason to be using valid markup (language)," said Daly from the W3C. "The most transparent and self-serving of reasons is the most important reason in a campaign: You want people to know about you and you want to encourage them to vote for you, so there's no reason to put impediments based on markup."
Out of roughly 535 members of Congress, News.com found that only four incumbent House members and no senators running for re-election passed the test. The four incumbents with passing grades: Reps. John Lewis of Georgia and Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, both Democrats, and Dave Reichert of Washington state and Mike Sodrel of Indiana, both Republicans.
House staffers were "really all about being W3C compliant for any official site," said Jim Metzler of Reach Out Communications in Timonium, Md., who developed Ruppersberger's campaign Web site. "Occasionally things get out of sync and we have to go in and make a couple of changes to make sure it's back in compliance."
The Web design field is replete with cautionary tales about how sites that don't follow industry guidelines risk crashing browsers or vanishing from search engines. A simple example would be the <title> HTML tag, which search engines scan when trying to decide how to rank a Web site. A typo could quietly remove the offending Web site from search engines' indexes.
"In this day and age, the Internet is the main source of information for everything, especially in a political campaign," said Josh Feinauer, the campaign Webmaster for LaVar Christensen, a Republican seeking a House seat in Utah. "You've got to make sure everything works, that it has all of those standards."
Open-source activist, political candidate
To be sure, even strict compliance with HTML and XML standards hardly guarantees an attractive Web site, as Parker4Congress.com and RogerIPrice.com demonstrate. By way of analogy, someone who can speak grammatically correct English may have a limited vocabulary, and a photographer who can operate the dials of a camera flawlessly may have no sense of beauty or perspective.
Josh Hansen, a House candidate with the Independent American Party of Nevada, is considered--at least by his father--to be a "Web standards compliance freak." The IAP of Nevada is an offshoot of the Constitution Party and stresses downsizing the federal government and stopping illegal immigration.
Hansen says that his inspiration for adherence to Web standards came from Zeldman.com and Jeffrey Zeldman's book "Designing With Web Standards." Also, as a Linux and Apple Computer Macintosh user, he wasn't using Internet Explorer and knew firsthand that not all Web browsers render a page identically.
It's not "that people are making a conscious decision not to follow Web standards," Hansen said. "It's that most people don't understand Web standards. I think a lot of Web development tools have turned a lot of people who are document writers into what they think are Web guys because they can take a word document and turn it into an HTML document and throw it up online."
But it was the Libertarian candidates who seemed to be the most tech-savvy. The party's vice presidential nominee in 1996, Jo Jorgensen, was head of a small software company, and its 2004 presidential nominee was an assembly language programmer. Its platform talks about Internet freedoms and "eliminating all restrictions" on the "private development, sale, and use of encryption technology."
Mike Sylvia, a FedEx employee, is campaigning as a Libertarian for a House seat in New York. He says he runs Debian Linux on his home computer and uses Mozilla Composer to build his pages. "I'm a member of the Ithaca Free Software Association," Sylvia said. "They're independent spirits."
The list of board members for the national Libertarian Party is no less geekish: a software engineer; a database consultant; an author of a book on Linux system administration; the CEO of a Web application company; and the creator of PocketMoney personal finance software for Palm handhelds.
"Can you find another political party with a tech-savvy board like this?" said Cory, the Libertarians' national chairman. "I can tell you it's not going to happen."
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