CS graduate student creates Vote Chooser

With the primaries rolling by and the country on the brink of national elections, it may be hard for some voters to judge a presidential candidate’s credentials or align each candidates beliefs with their own.

Understanding this dilemma, computer science graduate student Bryant Lee generated Vote Chooser, an interactive, non-partisan quiz website that helps potential voters choose which candidate to vote for in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections. The website presents the positions of Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and Republican candidates John McCain and Ron Paul, on critical issues such as the Iraq war, tax cuts, and national healthcare policies.

“My website makes it easier [for the public] to do research on what the candidates’ positions are,” said Lee, who is completing a doctorate in computer science.
The website prompts users to answer 10 questions based on their stances on American political issues.

Once the users answer all 10 questions and submit their responses, they are directed to a page which displays the name of the presidential candidate whose ideas most closely resemble their own. The website, which was started in January, was visited by over 1.5 million people as of March 17, according to Lee.

“A lot of people were trying [to access the website] on Super Tuesday, which took place on Feb. 5. 200,000 people visited the website in one day,” Lee said.

Similar to online quizzes that suggest which Hollywood celebrity your personality is most akin to or what career you are most likely to choose, Lee’s quiz suggests which candidates voters are most likely to vote for in terms of their political beliefs.

The website also offers detailed explanations about acts that some people may be generally unfamiliar with, such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a federal law that asserts several reforms in the American education system.

At the end of the quiz, users are shown a summary of which presidential candidates they most agree with. In addition, users can click on the “details” link and view how and why their opinions differ or agree with the respective candidates.

According to Lee, this is the most unique aspect of Vote Chooser because users understand “how exactly they agreed or disagreed.”

Lee said that he created the website using HTML, the widely used mark-up language used for web pages, and the Practical Extraction and Report Language (Perl) script, a procedural programming language that is used in interactive web programs.

For example, one question on the website prompts users to pick whether they believe that invading Iraq was a mistake. The words “yes” and “no” appear as choice tabs and users must click on one of them.

If users click on “yes,” their views in terms of the invasion of Iraq are in line with Obama and Paul. The website displays quotes from Obama’s and Paul’s public statements that imply these results.

According to a Carnegie Mellon press release, Lee intends to keep the site operational through the rest of the primaries and during the general election in November, even though the number of actual candidates might vary.

Vote Chooser is also a useful tool for non-citizens who are new to American politics and are curious to know which candidate they are most likely to agree with.
An exchange student from Imperial College London, Deepti Sewraz said, “The quiz is very user-friendly and most importantly targets, in my opinion, key issues and goals of the different presidential candidates.”

Sewraz, a junior in the chemical engineering program, also said that she discovered that her political views are most similar to Obama’s.

Dana Hadan, a junior business administration major, said that Vote Chooser provided her with an ideal summary of the differences between the views of candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

While Vote Chooser shows voters which candidates they are most compatible with, it is not associated with any political party or candidate. Its intention is to help voters make more informed decisions about which candidate to vote for during the presidential elections.