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March 17: Non-partisan Web Site Helps Voters Pick Presidential Candidates

Contact:

Byron Spice                           
412-268-9068
bspice@cs.cmu.edu

Anne Watzman
412-268-3830
aw16@andrew.cmu.edu

Non-partisan Web Site Helps Voters
Pick Presidential Candidates

Carnegie Mellon Grad Student Develops VoteChooser.com

PITTSBURGH — A graduate student in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a non-partisan Web site, www.VoteChooser.com, which helps voters find a presidential candidate whose views are most compatible with theirs.   

Bryant Lee, who is pursuing a doctorate in computer science, said more than 1.5 million people have visited the site since he launched it in January. Though the field of candidates has narrowed considerably since then, he plans to keep the site active through the remaining primaries and the November general election.
   
Based on a potential voter's answers to a 10-question quiz on election issues, Vote Chooser can quickly tell the user which candidate has the most similar set of positions on those issues. Vote Chooser not only ranks the candidates by the number of areas of agreement and disagreement, but also includes citations from the candidates' Web sites or from news accounts that express the candidates' positions.
   
The questions — on such subjects as the invasion of Iraq, the legality of abortion and availability of health care — were chosen based on opinion polling about which issues were most important to voters. Answers to each question were drawn from the candidates' stated positions. Some of the choices of answers for each question may seem less than comprehensive, Lee acknowledged, but that's because the answers include only those positions that the candidates have expressed.
   
Lee said he hoped Vote Chooser would help save people time otherwise spent doing initial research on each candidate's positions. But he emphasized that the site was not meant to be a complete substitute for a voter's own reading and study.  "I hope it will inspire people to go out and do more research on their own," Lee said.
   
Although Vote Chooser can help voters sort through positions on issues, it provides no guidance about other factors that might be important to voters, such as judgments on a candidate's character, experience or charisma. "I can't really test charisma on a quiz," he added.
   
Lee, a registered Democrat, said he didn't design Vote Chooser to favor any particular candidate or issue. "I'm still making up my mind on who I'm going to vote for," he added, noting he intends to vote in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary.

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