"EcoNetwork" Launches Online Enviro Voters' Guide

Environmentalists can see where candidates stand

Brandi Clark Burton
Brandi Clark Burton

Everyone knows data entry sucks. So for anyone to voluntarily take on a massive data-wrangling project like Austin EcoNetwork's just-launched Election Navigator – a multimedia clearinghouse of candidate positions and video interviews with most of those running in Austin's bulging 10-1 election – the effort suggests either the allure of big bucks or irrepressible passion.

Judging from AE's founder Brandi Clark Burton's track record of advancing environmental reforms in Austin – including, not incidentally, helping hash out the city's Climate Protection Plan as a steering committee member – passion is the more likely culprit. "To me the environment is everything," Burton told the Chronicle. "There's only a few things in government the city does that don't have to do with our water, our trees, our energy, where we are with our climate. These issues all tie back."

Of course, that conviction did nothing to limit the scope of her task, in assembling an online, searchable, green voting guide for city residents. Along with a small team of staffers and volunteering "core green movement leaders," Burton culled responses from five existing candidate questionnaires produced by groups such as the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action; folded in her own questions and responses; conducted numerous videotaped interviews with candidates; created endorsement infographics; crawled all the candidates' websites for eco pledges; generated summaries of each candidate's positions on topics ranging from energy to food waste; and consolidated as many relevant video clips from regional news media as her team could wrap their tendrils around.

Released last week, the Election Navigator was obviously a mammoth endeavor for a handful of paid staff, volunteers, and Burton, who says she doesn't even draw a full-time salary. But it could have been easier. "They didn't actually want to release their answers," she said of the (ultimately) collaborating organizations. It took badgering and tapping of "champions" within each environmental nonprofit to press her cause. "It was not as easy as one might hope. I just never wavered and stood on the ground that this information should be public."

Certainly Austin voters have a number of online resources to educate themselves about the candidates. The League of Women Voters has long distributed nonpartisan voter guides, raising their game in 2006 with an online resource Vote411.org. Project Vote Smart recently launched Vote Easy, promising to help "find your political soulmate." (Texas stats are supposed to be added Oct. 25.) In a race this crowded and freshly cross-sectioned, the Travis County Clerk's Election Division (in partnership with the Travis County Tax Assessor/Collector) offers a welcome Voter Lookup program that generates a personalized ballot for any registered voter – showing only the races in that voter's various districts.

A local trio are offering all of the above in a freshly launched voting app with national aspirations that will be using 10-1 as their test run. The Voting App offers a personalized ballot; important dates, times, and polling locations; and an issue survey that then compares your policy priorities with the candidates (see Vote Smart's pending "soulmate" crush above) – all in a slick, intuitive package the developers say will encompass state races by next year, and go national in time for the 2016 presidential election.

But those who want to know more on the nuances of shutting down the coal-fired Fayette Power plant (or squirming out of a junior stake in the South Texas Project nuclear facility), expanding urban farming and reaching zero waste, and swapping cars for bikes (or skateboards; ask our aspirational Mayor Pro Tem) on city streets, you could do worse than spend an hour or two navigating Burton's collaboration with the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Austin Environmental Democrats, and the umbrella Clean Energy for Austin.

While some running may have sought to use the platform to embellish on their records or commitments, the one-on-one interview process offers a good measure of the key quality Burton brings to the subject. "Seeing how passionate they are, how many ideas they have – you can tell when someone cares about this," Burton said. "It's clear."


www.austineconetwork.com/elections

LWV's Vote411.org: www.vote411.org

Project Vote Smart's Vote Easy: www.votesmart.org/voteeasy

Travis Co. Clerk's Voter Lookup: www.votetravis.com/vexpress/display.do.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin EcoNetwork, voting, environment, Brandi Clark Burton, December 2014 Run-off, Mayor & City Council

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