Nan Gao
Dylan Marks
Andrew Peterson
Chester Shiu

CS 201
Stanford University

Political Impact

Introduction | Informative Nonpartisan Websites | Information through e-mail | Campaign Websites | Political Interaction

Information through e-mail: The use and abuse

Telephone calls have been a traditional way for politicians to reach the masses through individual contact. Both personal phone calls and automated message services have been used in campaigns to try to reach voters in a one-on-one venue in order to win votes. Telephone calls usually do little more than inform potential voters of the name of candidates, passing up on informing about political issues at stake. Nevertheless, they have become a common practice for both national and local campaigns.

With the advent of the Internet, however, political e-mails have not yet replaced the phone calls but have become more popular as a means of reaching individual voters. The main form that political e-mails take is an informative newsletter sent out on a regular basis. In a study done on the best practices of nonpartisan political web sites by the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet emails are said to be, “just as important as a Web presence. E-mail newsletters can direct traffic back to your Web site and inform your readers of important election deadlines or campaign events.” E-mails don’t have to be found like websites. They can be delivered. Therefore, unaware or uninterested voters will get information that they would not normally seek out from a website. Also, e-mails are less intrusive than phone calls and can be sent to many people at once. This allows for a large amount of information to be disseminated to voters for a low cost to campaigns. Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson said, “Building out e-mail database is our ‘job one’ here.” By Election Day 2000, the GOP had collected close to one million e-mail addresses with which it sent election campaign updates to on a regular basis. E-mail is an effective and valuable means of reaching voters that is used in many, if not every, type of political arena.

Though the e-mail as a medium of campaigning has only recently come about, ethical problems have already arisen in its use. In the 2000 Minnesota Senate race, Senator Rod Gram’s campaign practices surrounding the use of anonymous emails was called into question. One hundred members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party received a collection of email from a “Katie Stevens” attacking Gram’s opposition. Though the attack was based on solid opposition, Grams opposition research director under the fake name Katie Stevens sent out the e-mails. One of the opposing candidates filed a complaint under the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act, which was eventually help up in court. Grams campaign abused the new medium to try to unfairly persuade voters. In the end it did not work and he was not reelected.

A similar situation happened at Stanford in the ASSU elections in 2004. The Stanford Daily reported that in the days before the election, “e-mails were sent anonymously by former ASSU Vice President Nick Rodriguez, a senior. Rodriguez sent the message — titled “The Ugly Side of the ASSU” — to 11,746 Stanford e-mail addresses.” This message was supporting the Lee and Medford campaign and presented information that they were the best candidates. Because the e-mails were sent out so close to the voting no action was taken prior to the announcement of Lee and Medford’s victory. However, in the aftermath, the ASSU rejected the results due in large part to what they deemed unfair practices with the mass, last minute e-mail. A special election was then held to decide the election to make up for the e-mail scandal.