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Online election resources

With the conventions coming up, here are some candidate information sources to get you the real facts.

The U.S. presidential race is in full swing, and as usual it has captured the attention of the news media. But where can you go to dig deeper than the headlines? Obviously there are a million news resources, like CBSNews.com, where you can go to find news stories, but the Web offers more specialized Web sites that can give you even more insight.

Some give you predictions, so you can see who's ahead, others give you facts and figures, so you can check who's doing what, especially regarding money. Still others dig into the beliefs and histories of the candidates so you can gain insight into how they think.

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Predictions

I just discovered fivethirtyeight.com. The number spelled out in the URL refers to the number of voting members in the U.S. electoral college, the 18th-century institution that actually elects the president. The site is run by a couple of admitted Chicago Democrats who endeavor to provide an impartial look at the surveys being done across the country.

By weighting the history of the poll along with some other statistical analysis, the pair provides projections on how each candidate is doing in the different states and how many electoral votes they seem to have at the moment.

Another great prediction Web site is one you can take part in and make money from. The Iowa Electronic Markets allow anyone to buy futures in an event, in this case the election of the president.

This is done for research purposes. There are a few different ways you can participate, but one way is through vote shares. You buy shares in a candidate and are paid off based on the election results. The better your candidate does the more money you make. The idea is that the candidate more likely to win will tend to maintain a higher market value. Experience has shown the predictive market to be pretty good at predicting results, so it's worth paying attention to, even if you don't actively participate.

Facts and figures

OpenSecrets.org is dedicated to educating the public about campaign finance. You can read up on lobbyists, check to see how the fund-raising is going for the candidates, and even look up who gave how much money to whom in your local ZIP code. Followthemoney.org is another resource for funding info.

Of course, all this research is more fun on a map. Politcal Base provides a Google Map where you can browse around the country and see which regions are supporting which candidates.

But once you have the money, next come the lies.

FactCheck.org keeps track of statements from campaign speeches and ads, and ascertains just how truthful they are. Politifact.com has an Attack File that pays attention to attacks on candidates and how true they are.

How the candidates think

Project Vote Smart attempts to arm voters with a "self-defense manual," which provides the facts about every candidate.

The League of Women Voters provides similar candidate information, as well as more practical stuff like polling places and dates, all of which is available at vote411.org.

And Glassbooth.org is one of many Web sites that asks your opinions on the issues and then shows you how they compare to the candidates' views.

I know those are a lot of Web sites to slog through, but hey, nobody said Democracy was easy. In any case, you can now be the most educated voter on your block. Use your vote wisely. But DO vote.