Facebook becomes resource for voters

By Kathleen Foody

Wondering what Republican State Senate candidate Judy Myers’ favorite movie is? Or maybe you’re just dying to know Democrat House of Representatives candidate Dr. David Gill’s birthday? Soon enough you may be able to log onto Facebook and find out all the information you need, and some you don’t, about local political candidates.

Several candidates have established Facebook profiles or groups to gather support among college-age voters, and others are planning to do so within the next few weeks.

Kristin Williamson, junior in LAS, is the campaign manager for Republican Illinois General Assembly candidate Rex Bradfield. The campaign just launched a Facebook group late last month, she said.

“Now that the campaign season has really kicked off, we thought it would be a great way to get in touch with younger voters,” she said. “Facebook is something that students use at least every week, in some cases every day.”

Green Party candidate Tom Abram has used his University alumni profile to promote his campaign in addition to a traditional Web site.

“Using Facebook is an integral part to getting messages to college students,” Abram said. “Political candidates need to reach out to youth voters. Our generation has to deal with the issues going on now because they will affect our lives in the future.”

Abram’s campaign has already gained donations and volunteers through Facebook and has also used the event feature to promote fundraisers.

Democratic incumbent Naomi Jakobsson’s campaign did not return a message seeking information, but a student group has been established supporting the Democrat.

Gill’s campaign formed a Facebook group to promote his issues.

Jessica Frank, Champaign Regional Coordinator for the Gill campaign and a senior in LAS, said she formed the group to promote the Registered Student Organization ‘Students for David Gill’ and to provide more information to student voters.

“The group is a great tool for getting students to vote early,” she said. “A lot of students don’t know how or where to vote either, so the group gives them easy access to that information.”

The group has also allowed the Gill campaign to recruit more volunteers and gain endorsements and donations from groups that base these benefits on online votes, Frank said.

Republican incumbent Tim Johnson’s campaign could not be reached for information.

Bill Cleeland, spokesman for Myers, said the campaign is in the process of creating a Facebook profile.

“The network is an amazing tool for getting our message out to voters,” he said. “The profile will be a very active part of our campaign to inform voters of events and issues.”

Nationally, politicians have adopted Facebook as a legitimate campaign resource.

Democratic Indiana U.S. Senator Evan Bayh’s use of his alumni Facebook account has received national attention.

Jonathan Kott, spokesman for the All American Political Action Campaign, of which Bayh is chairman, said the idea of using Facebook was suggested by a staffer and the account was set up in June 2006.

“The Senator thought it was best to use a medium that young people use to energize and engage them,” Kott said. “It allowed him to connect with them on their level.”