If you want to know how important the Internet became during the 2000 election, consider this fact: The entire Florida voting drama never would have occurred if an Al Gore staffer had not been monitoring the Web site of the Secretary of Florida on election night.
Mr. Gore had already called George Bush to concede, and was on his way to address the nation when the aide noticed on the Web site that the vice-president had pulled within 600 votes of the Texas governor. He called the Gore motorcade and Gore then made the now famous second call. There will be debate by historians until, well, there are no more historians.
While some people may wish the staffer had not been quite so zealous, so we all could have avoided pregnant chads and the like, the Internet can no longer be discounted as "something to let the kids do" in election campaigns.
Let's look at the most crucial part of political campaigning these days - raising money. Of the $3 billion raised by candidates this election, only about $50 million came via the Internet. Yet that $50 million played a key role in two important campaigns.
Sen. John McCain used money raised on the Internet, mostly via credit-card donations, to keep his primary campaign alive, because he had immediate access to the funds donated. Presidential runner Ralph Nader raised about $1 million on the Internet, showing third-party candidates everywhere the potential to reach out and raise money among groups that most traditional fundraising activities overlook.
Watch for all candidates to use the Internet in 2002 and beyond to complement money raised via other methods.
The Florida election debacle also gave a boost to another Internet idea - voting online (see story Nov. 16). Since then, the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and California Institute of Technology in Pasadena have announced they plan to devote some of their considerable scientific efforts to helping make high-tech voting a reality - once security and equality-of-access problems can be overcome.
One final example. The simplicity of e-mail may have helped Gore in two or three close states. Vote-swapping sites sprang up on the Web literally overnight as Gore supporters in heavily Democratic states like Massachusetts and New York traded votes online with Nader supporters in Arizona and Wisconsin. Officials in several states tried to shut some sites down, but as always with the Net, the people find a way around it.
None of this was even conceived of four years ago. And if you want to know how important some people think the Internet might be in the future, look at the actions of an aggrieved Gore supporter who blamed Nader for allowing Bush to win the election. He got online and bought up all the possible Nader domain names you can think of - (Nader2004.org, etc.) because he was so determined that Nader not get his hands on them four years from now.
Don't be surprised if supporters and detractors of those thinking about the road to the White House aren't doing the same thing right now.
Tom Regan is associate editor of The Christian Science Monitor's Electronic Edition. You can e-mail him at Tom@csmonitor.com.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society