October 26, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

On Web standards, Libertarian candidates win

The Libertarian Party hasn't had much success in national elections: It garnered just 353,265 votes in the 2004 presidential race and boasts precisely zero elected representatives in the U.S. Congress.

But a survey of political sites by CNET News.com shows that Libertarian candidates are ahead in the race to ensure their pages comply with a widely accepted litmus test for good Web design, which can aid mobile device users and people with visual disabilities.

Of approximately 1,000 campaign Web sites surveyed two weeks before the Nov. 7 election, only 35 passed the validation tests created by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. Seven of those were created by Libertarian candidates, some of whom have degrees in computer or electrical engineering or count themselves as free-software aficionados. (Republicans came in a close second.)

Call the Libertarians the political party of geeks, for geeks.

"I'll be the first to admit that we do have a lot of geeks in the party, and I'm one of them," Shane Cory, executive director of the national Libertarian Party, said Wednesday.

Cory believes tech-savvy Americans are drawn to the Libertarian Party because of its principled support for individual rights, lower taxes, and fewer government regulations. "We take a look at the issues before us and try to find solutions to them, just like you'd troubleshoot a PHP script or HTML."

To compile a list of campaign Web sites to review, News.com used a database of U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate candidates created by Voter Information Services, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group. Then we wrote a computer program to test each campaign Web site against a "validator" maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, and record and then sort the results.

Best-built political sites

Getting elected in 2006 should mean more than seeking endorsements, holding campaign rallies and begging everyone for money. More than 15 years after the birth of the World Wide Web, any successful online campaign should include a Web site that follows standards published by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C.

If Web site creators don't abide by those rules, they risk turning away search engines, creating accessibility problems for people with vision problems and making their pages illegible in future versions of Web browsers.

CNET News.com downloaded a database of U.S. Congress candidates compiled by Voter Information Services. Then our program checked each candidate site with W3C's validator. The list of the relatively small number of valid Web sites follows.

Web site Name Party
  Incumbents:  
http://www.davereichertforcongress.com Dave Reichert Republican
http://www.dutchforcongress.com Dutch Ruppersberger Democrat
http://www.johnlewisforcongress.com John Lewis Democrat
http://www.mikesodrel.com Mike Sodrel Republican
  Challengers:  
http://allittahren.lpwm.org Allitta Hren Libertarian
http://www.belforti.org Dan Belforti Libertarian
http://www.sundwall4congress.org Eric Sundwall Libertarian
http://www.redgar.com Jay Edgar Libertarian
http://kenhowe.lpwm.org Ken Howe Libertarian
http://markbyrne.lpwm.org Mark Byrne Libertarian
http://www.mikesylvia.org Mike Sylvia Libertarian
http://www.foltinforcongress.com Craig Foltin Republican
http://www.lavarforcongress.com LaVar Christensen Republican
http://www.byrneforcongress.com Mark Byrne Republican
http://www.hoffmanforcongress.com Richard Hoffman Republican
http://www.voteaurbach.com Wilson Aurbach Republican
http://www.durstonforcongress.org Bill Durston Democrat
http://www.shamanskyforcongress.com/cms Bob Shamansky Democrat
http://www.charliebrownforcongress.org Charles Brown Democrat
http://www.courageforcongress.org John Courage Democrat
http://www.dixon4senate.com Aaron Dixon Green
http://www.newlandforcongress.org David Newland Green
http://jaypond.org Jay Pond Green
http://www.michaelcavlan.org Michael Cavlan Green
http://www.parker4congress.com Ed Parker Constitution Party
http://www.kenlucierforcongress.com Ken Lucier Constitution Party
http://www.independentamerican.
org/candidates/joshuahansen.php
Joshua Hansen Independent American Party
http://www.independentamerican.
org/candidates/davidschumann.php
David Schumann Independent American Party
http://www.cannonforcongress.org Adele Cannon Peace and Freedom Party
http://kevinakinforcongress.org Kevin Akin Peace and Freedom Party
http://www.peterwhiteforcongress.com Peter White Independent
http://www.mertens2006.com John Mertens Independent Party
http://www.rogeriprice.com Roger Price Personal Choice Party
http://web.mac.com/williamhastings Bill Hastings Progressive
http://www.votesocialist.info/chester2006 Eric Chester Socialist

The case for compliant Web design, according to the W3C and an enthusiastic cadre of online professionals, goes something like this: If Web site creators don't abide by industry standards, they risk becoming invisible to search engines, creating accessibility problems for people with vision problems, and making their pages illegible in future versions of Web browsers. Valid Web pages tend to display far better on mobile devices, which use nonstandard browsers.

"Since a lot of the work around Web accessibility starts with following strict markup standards, following (HTML) markup the way it was intended to be used, you actually end up reaching a greater proportion of people," said Janet Daly, a spokeswoman for W3C.

Perils of not following the rules
Relatively few Web sites can pass W3C's strict validation tests. Microsoft's MSN.com, Stanford University, MIT, and Flickr do. But most other Web sites, including Yahoo.com, Google.com, and CNET News.com do not, largely because of the difficulty and cost of rewriting legacy Web pages and because some browsers work better with malformed HTML.

It should, however, be easier for campaign Web sites--which generally have simpler designs and far fewer pages--to follow industry standards from the beginning.

R. Jay Edgar, a Libertarian who is running for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in New Jersey, is a programmer who works for AT&T. He says he writes his own code and uses the Firebug plug-in for the Firefox Web browser to ensure that everything is valid HTML.

Of the 35 Web sites found in the survey to comply with industry standards, candidates from the Constitution Party, Independent American Party, and Peace and Freedom Party claimed two each. Four were created by Green Party candidates, six by Democrats and seven by Republicans and Libertarians. (Because the Republicans fielded candidates in every congressional district and the Libertarians did in less than one-quarter of the races, the smaller party won higher marks because it had a higher percentage of candidates who complied.)

CONTINUED: Incumbents don't pass the test…
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7 comments

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Maybe I'm having trouble counting, but...
Looking at the list of websites, it seems that Republicans and Libertarians each have seven valid sites... how is it that Republicans come in "a close second"?
Posted by tobiasly (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Um, nevermind.
No trouble counting, just trouble reading. :)
Posted by tobiasly (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the point?
I think i missed it.... Here's 10 minutes of my life I'll never get back.
Posted by TxTodd (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Incumbents vs Challengers
It seems the big difference is incumbents vs challengers, which makes sense since challengers need to promote themselves a bit more.

On the whole, I agree with the other poster. This was an utter waste of time.

Adhering perfectly to 'web standards' just isnt that important. For starters, neither FF or IE are even fully compliant themselves! Its a nice thing to discuss at the campus coffee shop so that other college comp sci students will think you're a hardcore h4xxor. But as long as the major browsers can all access your site, thats all that matters. The REAL web standard is that your site displays correctly in IE and FF.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes and no ...
It's true there are no house members elected as Libertarians, but Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) is a former Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, and without doubt a genuine libertarian, regardless of his current party label.
Posted by Linux Now (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
L vs l
Ron Paul is certainly a small l-libertarian. But he's certainly not in office as a large-L libertarian, which is what our article said.

BTW check out his opponent's web site. They're calling Paul a libertarian -- using it against him in radio/TV ads. It might even work. Seems to be a tight race.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who graded these sites?
The first site on the list isn't standards compliant. It might validate, but it's built in tables. There is criteria extending far beyond W3C validation for a standards-based site.
Posted by resistmedia (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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