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Website Allows Voters To Declare in Advance

By Faryl Ury, Crimson Staff Writer

Voters who can’t wait to cast a ballot in November can now pre-vote in a simulated election on a website designed earlier this month by two Harvard alums.

Founders Chhay Chun ’02 and Solomon Liou ’02 hope at least one million voters will rally behind George W. Bush or John F. Kerry on their website, PreVote2004.com, before election day.

The site’s registered users do not merely click the candidate of their choice—they can also rate the presidential candidates on a scale of one to five and indicate which election issues matter most.

Kerry currently leads Bush among the 2,000 online voters, garnering 62 percent of respondents’ support and with Bush receiving 38 percent of the vote.

“Economic policy” ranks as the most important issue in the election, followed by “social issues” and “foreign policy”.

More than half of voters say they care most about a candidate’s “positions on issues,” while more than a quarter say they judge on “values.”

The website, Liou said, provides an interesting snapshot of changing voter sentiment, especially after specific political events, such as debates and speeches.

The Harvard Republican Club (HRC) and Harvard College Democrats may not agree on election issues, but members of both groups questioned the significance of the site’s predictions.

“It seems to be pretty dominated by young voters, who tend to be Kerry supporters.  I wouldn’t put much stock into its overall predictive value,” said College Dems President Andy J. Frank ’05.

And HRC spokeswoman Lauren K. Truesdell ’05 agreed that the online vote offers little insight to the future election results.  “Since it is a poll of self-selected people, the votes are skewed toward the preferences of those who choose to participate.  In this case, since it is an internet poll, the respondents are likely to be younger and richer than the population as a whole.”

Liou said that the site attracts younger voters, but defended the ultimate ability of the site to represent the actual voting public.

“We feel we are getting a good sense of which types of voters actually care a lot about the issues. If you are taking the initiative to vote on our online site, you are going to vote.”

The site also offers information about the candidates and help on registering to vote in the actual election—which Liou hopes will lead to greater voter turnout come November.

Liou said the site will e-mail registered users the week before the election, reminding them to vote and providing the site’s latest online statistics.

“We are trying to get people to the polls on Nov. 2. Having people come to vote, getting educated and motivated, and pre-voting will translate into actual votes,” said Liou.

PreVote encourages registered users to invite their friends to the site with hopes more people will head to the election booths.

“When you invite your friends, they come to the website, and they enter into your community, and become engaged in that way,” Liou said.

Kennedy School Lecturer in Public Policy Marshall L. Ganz ’64-’92 praised the mobilizing power of sites such as PreVote.

“The site’s main value is to stimulate mobilization that would turn out real voters on election day. If a group of people decide to make an organized effort to cast these early votes... it could help them get an organization in shape that would turn out real voters on election day,” he said.

Ganz said PreVote does have the potential to reveal which party mobilizes supporters better but hesitated to predict how the site’s results will influence swing voters.

—Staff writer Faryl W. Ury can be reached at ury@fas.harvard.edu.

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