GW student creates digital democracy

GW senior Einat Sandman teamed with a high school friend in 1998 to create Digital Democracy, an interactive political Web site that provides voters an information center and forum about Silicon Valley politics.

“I am from California, and I used to feel guilty filling out a ballot because I did not know the candidates on it,” said Sandman, a political communication major in the School of Media and Public Affairs.

“The mission (of Digital Democracy) is to make the distance between wanting to be educated and getting objective, non-partisan information short,” Sandman said.

The Web site was the brainchild of Duke University graduate Jed Stremel, Sandman’s close friend. Stremel is now a second-year law student at University of California Santa Cruz.

Although Sandman was juggling two jobs, a full class load and an internship, she was lured into this new electronic venture, she said.

Throughout 1998 – until election night Nov. 3 – Sandman wore several hats to ensure the Web site materialized successfully. In the two and a half weeks before the election, the Web site received 30,000 hits.

She researched the necessary procedures to make the Institute of Silicon Valley Public Affairs, which produces the Digital Democracy Web site, a nonprofit organization. She coordinated an editorial staff of about 20 volunteer writers and reporters, and compiled a 60-page manual to guide their work on the Web site. And although she was never professionally trained, she worked through the nuts and bolts of HTML coding to establish the Web site.

“I am basically the president and Jed is the CEO,” she said. “I am more the day-to-day person; Jed usually has the leads on all the techy stuff.”

Technical aspects, on which Stremel concentrates, have played an essential role in the success of the Web site.

Networking with Silicon Valley technology companies has given this fledgling operation an edge over more established political information outlets, Sandman said.

Several companies provide Digital Democracy free technical service because they appreciate the two students’ entrepreneurial zeal, the signature trait of Silicon Valley. The Web site features animation and video interviews, which can be downloaded within seconds.

Sandman said she would like to enhance the Web site’s services even further as the partners look to the 2000 presidential elections.

Extensive fact checking, personal interviews with more local and national candidates, and interactive debates are on the list of items to add to the Web site.

The Internet, and this Web site in particular, may provide an inexpensive outlet to candidates who are technologically savvy, Sandman said.

“Lamar Alexander wanted to do an interview even before he declared he would run for president,” she said. “But when we sent out Digital Democracy CD-Rom press kit to Dan Quayle’s campaign, they did not know what a CD-Rom was.”

The Web site is located at

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