A few final points about the election

Buzz loves digging into a good conspiracy yarn as much as the next guy. But I'm not buying this "Kerry really won" nonsense traipsing about the blogosphere any more than I do the magic bullet theory or Jack Ruby in the role of aggrieved avenger.

Which isn't to say there isn't a lot that needs fixing in terms of how we vote, particularly those wretched e-voting machines and the immutable need to assure that future elections, should they prove closer, can be verified through a recount that reasonable citizens will trust (there will always be outliers on the fringes). That means replacing machines that are incapable of producing a paper trail: no ifs, ands or excuses. Voting ought not require a four-hour wait in line, either, which means not only better voting machines but also a lot more of them.

Before the presidential election fades too far into the rearview mirror, however, there are a couple of other Internet-related items worth revisiting: One turned out to be a huge deal, the other not so much.

These numbers from Meetup.com ought to be Exhibit A in countering those who still pooh-pooh the Internet's ability to bring about meaningful social change in a rapid manner:

About 750,000 individuals registered for various political Meetup Groups, with some 450,000 attending at least one of 25,000 meetings held nationwide.

Kerry supporters alone numbered almost 132,000 strong in 653 cities worldwide, and they conducted 8,700 events between them.

President Bush's supporters numbered fewer than 5% of the Kerry total and Bush events fewer than 10% . . . but these folks held much cheerier post-election bashes.

Myles Weissleder, Meetup's vice president of communications, sums it up thusly: "Twenty-five thousand meetings where no meetings existed before. Community connections where there were once none. Meetup Groups helped spur millions of dollars raised, tens of thousands of signatures signed, record voter turnouts and best of all - a newly empowered electorate."

Some will carp that all those newly minted activists holding all those living-room meetings didn't do Kerry any good where it counted. They are shortsighted.

This is how political campaigns are going to be run from now on.

The same cannot be said - at least not with any authority - about VotePair.org, a somewhat controversial vote-swapping site that sought to boost swing-state support for Kerry. The idea was to convince swing-state backers of Green Party candidate David Cobb and independent Ralph Nader to cast potentially meaningful votes for Kerry in return for their protest ballots being registered in other states that Kerry was assured of winning.

While anathema to purists, it's a practical idea for pragmatic voters, and the VotePair organizers executed the scheme well. The effort ultimately proved futile, however, and not simply because Bush won re-election.

While 22,000 individuals did register their intention to participate (no one really knows what people did in the privacy of their voting booths), only 2,659 pairs were formed. And that wasn't anywhere near enough to affect the outcome in any state because, unlike Florida in 2000, none turned out to be closely enough contested. VotePair delivered fewer than 500 Floridians for Kerry, which mattered not a whit in a state that the president carried by almost 400,000 votes.

The biggest obstacle for VotePair was common sense: Far fewer voters were willing to cast meaningless protest votes this time around. Nader garnered almost 100,000 votes in Florida four years ago. On Nov. 2 he received only about one-third as many.

Results aside, the VotePair concept - using the 'Net to foster strategic voting between residents of states otherwise disenfranchised by Electoral College peculiarities - may well survive to fight another day.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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