I’ve been working for weeks to parse Congressional roll call votes. Because most Congressmen are horrible, horrible people, this data is only available on a vote-by-vote listing, and not in any aggregate format. Consequently, I’ve had to write incredibly complex regular expressions to parse this data. I’ve spent hours on it, and I’ve gotten perhaps 50% of the way through with what I believe will be the necessary work to parse this data. With each hour, I grow to hate the incompetence of our federal elected officials more and more. I’m not the only person with this problem. Ralph Nader lamented this shortly after his run for president, expressing frustration with his inability to gather the same data that I’m trying to gather. Wrote Nader:
Members of Congress are continuing to play hide and seek with their legislative records. Only two Congressmen–Republican Representatives Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Frank Wolf of Virginia–have placed their voting records on the Internet in a searchable format easily accessible to citizens. Not a single U. S. Senator has been willing to use the Internet in a manner that would give voters an open, accurate and quick way to track their votes.
Information is the oxygen of democracy. It is also the basic ingredient that builds and maintains confidence and accountability in government. At a minimum, citizens have a right to know in detail the positions that their representatives take on legislation. Congress should adopt a rule which would require that all Members list their voting record on the Internet in an easily accessed searchable format by Member name, bill subject and bill title. This would be a giant step forward in efforts to ensure an informed electorate–and a more accountable Congress.
Then, this evening, I discovered Princeton Voteview. I now love deeply author Boris Shor and the Princeton Politics department. Sure, the program is only available for Windows, but I’ll get over it. Not only do they make all of the easily-parsible data files freely available, but the program itself appears to be fantastically useful.