Finally, local candidates are making good use of the Internet. Nearly all have Web sites, most with clickable e-mail links. Many offer online forms...

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Finally, local candidates are making good use of the Internet.

Nearly all have Web sites, most with clickable e-mail links. Many offer online forms to make contributions or sign up for volunteer lists and e-mail newsletters.

Most have news pages containing links to articles about the candidate. Some even offer video or audio clips of candidate appearances.

If all this seems only as it should be to jaded techies, remember that just two years ago basic Web sites were a rarity for local campaigns. Even in last year’s general election, few understood the power of online fundraising and mailing lists.

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Now that the basics are taken care of, what next?

If one word might characterize candidates’ use of the Internet, it’s “passive.”

Here’s one example. Using my personal address and identifying myself only as a Seattle resident, I sent e-mail to 10 city candidates, asking their stand on the monorail. In no case did I get an automated response. You know the kind: “We have received your e-mail and will try to respond within 24 hours.”

Companies and institutions understand the importance of an automated response. It’s a way of positively reinforcing the experience. Technologically, it’s a snap.

A week later, I had heard from only three candidates. A valuable opportunity to capture a voter, volunteer or contributor was wasted.

Moreover, none of my e-mail requests resulted in being placed on candidates’ mailing lists. Again, this would be a simple matter technically and could pay valuable dividends.

And while candidate Web sites offer far more content than in past campaigns, they tend to feel a little stale. On a recent heavy news weekend, several candidates were quoted in news stories. I searched their Web sites for links to the articles and found mostly weeks-old material.

The lack of “refresh” may explain why search engines fail to display candidates’ Web sites higher up. Local candidates’ names turn up lots of hits. But you have to scroll down quite a ways to find a campaign Web site.

This may hint at sluggish voter interest in local campaigns. But it also suggests a lack of dynamism on the sites.

In other words, candidates seem to be willing to simply toss their shingle up on the Web while doing little outreach to connect with potential supporters.

One creative step might be termed “virtual doorbelling,” in which a candidate contacts registered voters by e-mail (matching voter records with, say, Google searches for e-mail addresses).

It would be labor-intensive, but nowhere near as expensive and time-consuming as going door to door.

There’s the danger of voters considering it spam. Handled correctly, though, it could be a memorable and effective way of making contact with supporters.

It would be fascinating sometime to see a Microsoft or Google executive run for public office. The person might not get elected — but the executive’s use of online tools would show a whole new interactive path for connecting with voters.

Seattle freelance writer Paul Andrews has written about technology for more than two decades. He can be reached at