Google Launches Guide to US Congressional Elections

Google on Monday stepped into the political arena with its latest offering, the Google Earth Election Guide. The application mixes the company’s Google Earth program with information about the U.S. congressional races coming up in November.

Google Earth combines satellite imagery, maps and the power of Google Search to allow searchers to access the world’s geographic information. There have been over 100 million downloads of Google Earth since the product’s launch in June 2005.

Easy Enlightenment

The 2006 Google Earth Election Guide is available under the “Layers” tab of the Google Earth sidebar. It is designed to serve as an easily accessible resource for users to find information about candidates, voter registration and campaign financing in advance of the November 7th elections.

The guide includes clickable place marks for all 435 U.S. congressional districts. Each place mark includes the slate of candidates running for office in that district, with live feeds from Google Web, Image and News Search for each candidate.

Designed by Google Earth engineers who had had a hard time finding aggregated election information online about races across the nation, the product offers campaign finance information from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Center for Responsive Politics for the district’s candidates, along with a link to voter registration and voter information sites, localized to each state.

Looking Ahead

While only a relative handful of users may be likely to try out the Google Earth Election Guide during the next two weeks, the launch lays the groundwork for similar offerings in the future, according to Greg Sterling, principal analyst for Sterling Market Intelligence.

“When Google Earth launched, it was a very interesting application, but it was much more like a game or novelty than a real utility. Over time, Google has added some interesting content partners, like CBS, the Discovery Channel and National Geographic,” Sterling told TechNewsWorld. “Ultimately, it may be something that people use as an alternative to search, depending on the type of information they are looking for.”

Party Allegiance

Google has openly supported the Democratic party in the past, raising the question of whether the search giant may be tempted to skew its data in favor of one party. The firm gave more than US$200,000 to federal candidates in 2004 — most of it to Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

By comparison, Microsoft workers and its political action committee gave $3.1 million to candidates in the 2004 election — 60 percent to Democrats, the Center for Responsive Politics reported. Overall, 53 percent of the tech industry’s $25.9 million went to Democrats.

However, Sterling doesn’t believe bias is likely in the Google Earth Election Guide.

“I would be very surprised if [Democratic supporters Sergey Brin and Larry Page] had influenced the content in any way,” he said.

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