August 15, 2008 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
There are many things technology can do these days, but even die-hard technology fans would admit that one of the things it certainly can't do is win elections. Still, take a look at the way the 2008 United States presidential election is being fought, and it's clear that technology has nevertheless emerged as a significant tool for campaigning - despite its demonstrated limitations in ensuring democracy.
To get a feel of how technology is influencing politics in the run-up to the November elections, visit the virtual networks of MyBarackObama.com and McCain Space. While Obama and John McCain might have few things in common politically, both presidential hopefuls are leaning heavily on technology for executing their policies and organizing their campaigns, which includes fundraising, networking with supporters and taking measures for remaining compliant.
Chicago-headquartered ElectionMall Technologies is helping Obama, McCain, and many other state and local candidates who are running for office this year. ElectionMall touts itself as the only company in the world offering technology products and services tailored to campaigns and elections.
"Politicians do not always know what they really need," said Ravi Singh, the company's CEO and co-founder. "In every election there are different campaigns and every campaign has different needs. We give them the latest business technology that they need in order to win. We give them business know-how that allows them to run a successful campaign."
According to Singh, the 2008 campaign season is unique in the sense that for the first time, major candidates have secured million of dollars and built grassroots support using software technologies. This has been made possible by the growing accessibility to broadband technology.
"We do not plan a campaign or [organize] strategy," he said, "but we offer a range of tools to incorporate into a candidate's existing strategy and help them establish a better presence on the Web, or otherwise enhance traditional campaigning methods with technology. Some of our more popular tools include targeted e-mail initiatives, online fundraising and election Web site security features."
The 2008 campaign season marks the first time that candidates have employed on-demand services or software-as-a-service (SaaS) to secure millions of dollars and build grassroots support. SAAS is a software delivery system that hosts information remotely over a Web-based network and is rented with a licensing fee rather than purchased and downloaded. The increase of on-demand services stems from the growing broadband access available worldwide. Utilizing SAAS technology and innovation, ElectionMall claims its on-demand services accommodate small to large application needs without disruption due to a well-designed virtualized architecture and that allows for scalability.
Singh said one of the reasons ElectionMall was founded is because he wears a beard and turban. A Sikh by origin but born and raised in the United States, he plunged into politics at age 14 when informed by authorities that wearing a turban at the Marmion USA Military Academy was against policy. His choice was to remove his turban or withdraw from the academy. Instead, he drafted legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan that enabled a Sikh-American to graduate from a U.S. military institution wearing a turban.
Encouraged by that success, a decade ago when Singh was 25 years old, he campaigned as a Republican for a seat on the Illinois General Assembly. But he said he lost that race because when asked by his party to look less "foreign" and remove his turban and beard, Singh responded, "If I do that, I will not be true to my faith and will not be true to my work."
"After losing that election I also realized that there was no one to offer candidates technology solutions of any sort for fighting elections. That's how ElectionMall was born in 1999," said Singh.
ElectionMall claims it's a one-stop shop, which provides Internet-based