Are Voters Getting the Picture?

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It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Certainly pictures of candidates can be very important information in a voter’s decision process. But, unfortunately, a vast majority of voters have no idea what the candidates on their ballots look like, especially for State, county, and local offices.

To get those pictures, many voters turn to the Internet. Recently, I had several shocking experiences regarding the pictures I found, or didn’t find, of candidates.

The first incident was when I attempted to meet my State representative, Ken Plum for the first time. He was to speak at our local community center here in Reston, Virginia. So, I found this picture of him on his website so that I would be able to recognize him.

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Virginia State Delegate Ken Plum

Well, did you ever go on a blind date with the expectation of meeting Katie Holmes but Cathy Bates opens the door, or, if you are a woman, expecting George Clooney and you were greeted by Danny DeVito instead? At the community center, I didn’t see anybody that looked like Mr. Plum. So, I asked the person next to me if he could point him out. The person he identified was this person.

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Virginia State Delegate Ken Plum

Suddenly I realized that, election after election, I voted for Mr. Plum thinking he was a young man, when in fact in the last election he was 70. Recently this more accurate picture of Mr. Plum was provided for the Vote-USA website.

Not long after this first incidence, I heard on the radio that a convicted felon named Alvin Greene won the Democratic Party’s U.S. Senate nomination in the June 8, 2010 South Carolina Primary over a respected lawyer and arbitrator named Vic Rawl. So, I looked up Alvin Greene on Wikipedia and found this picture of the singer and entertainer. Many voters perhaps assumed that if Sonny Bono could be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, why not singer and entertainer Alvin Greene.

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Singer, Alvin Greene

Because of this scandal, there are now many pictures of the candidate Alvin Greene on the Internet. But, before June 8th primary there was nothing. Clearly without a picture, Democratic voters either had no idea who they were voting for or thought they were voting for someone else.

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South Carolina Candidate for Senate, Alvin Greene

In this case no available picture yielded a worse result than an inaccurate one.

In the last incident, I wrote an article about Charlie Rangel’s primary contest for the Independent Voter Network (IVN). This is the picture that accompanied my article.

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New York Rep. Charlie Rangel

I had heard that Charlie was ill and frail. So I checked the picture provided by Vote USA of Charlie.

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New York Rep. Charlie Rangel

These incidents, I felt, deserved an investigation as to the extent voters are getting accurate pictures of candidates. Since there are tens of thousands of candidates, I decided to limit my research to the U.S. Senate.

It didn’t take long to find numerous examples of pictures where the candidate apparently found the fountain of youth. The pictures on the left below are those found on common sources like the candidate’s website and references like Wikipedia. The pictures on the right are the most accurate pictures that Vote USA has on file for the U.S. Senators.

I found that a vast majority of pictures found on Wikipedia are outdated. It is obviously a difficult task to keep politicians’ pictures current as they age.

This is Wikipedia’s picture of Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson as compared with Vote USA’s most current photo of him.

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Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, Credit: Wikipedia
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Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, Credit: Vote USA

And here is Wikipedia’s picture of West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller as compared with that on Vote USA.

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West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, Credit: Wikipedia
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West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, Credit: Vote USA

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, seems to have matured as compared with Wikipedia’s version.

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New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Credit: Wikipedia
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New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Credit: Vote USA

Some candidate websites provide youthful versions of the candidates.

This is the picture of Nevada Senator Harry Reid found on his website as compared to the one on Vote USA.

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Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Credit: official website
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Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Credit: Vote USA

And here is a picture of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez found on his website. A similar likeness can also be seen on Wikipedia. The picture on the bottom is Vote USA’s most current photo of him.

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New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, Credit: official website
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New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, Credit: Vote USA

But not all politicians appear to be aging on the Internet. California’s Senator, Barbara Boxer, seems to be getting younger. Wikipedia provided these two pictures of Senator Boxer. The one on top is an older picture that was replaced by the one below.

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But these two pictures are more widely seen of Ms. Boxer. The one on the top is provided on Facebook while the picture on the bottom was the latest picture we could find on her website.

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Senator Boxer, I’m envious!

Time and space do not permit side-by-side comparisons of the other 94 Senators. Except for Senator Boxer, when there was a discrepancy the pictures were those of more youthful looking candidates. About a third look ten or more years younger, a third five to ten years younger, and a third appeared to be quite accurate. I’m happy to report that is better than what I had expected when I started my investigations. If you would like to check out the picture discrepancies for yourself, here is a report of the current U.S. Senate. Next to each picture are links to the senator’s Facebook, Wikipedia, flickr, and Twitter pages.

But, then again, if anybody has the resources to keep their websites, Wikipedia pages, and Facebook pages current, it is our U.S. Senators. As for the other tens of thousands of State, county, and local candidate pictures, I can attest that their accuracy is a lot, lot worse. Many are like the discrepancy of my State representative, Ken Plum.

Voters should be entitled to accurate pictures of their candidate choices. Sometimes they get them, more often they don’t.