2. Cookies must be on to store grades.
This is what I call a "Lieberman site" - except that I won't be blaming opponents if it locks up. I'm sure it's just a teeny part of a server, and until I upgrade in some way, response is likely to be poor. This will probably be particularly noticeable on the Results page.
This site is intended to assist you in evaluating members of Congress through their votes. You decide which votes you want to grade, you decide how important they are, and you decide what "grade" each vote gets. You do not grade the actions of individual Congressmen. The grades of individuals are derived from the way they vote on the rollcall votes you grade.
Because the prospect of individually assessing the performance of 535 different people is a daunting task. Because life is not an either/or, Democrat/Republican proposition. Because votes are one of the few metrics available for evaluating Congress as a whole. And because it's not just the senators in your state, or the Representative in your district, who decide what happens in Washington, D.C.
Therein lies the rub. It's not easy. Congress lumps mountains of changes into a single bill. They gut entire bills while retaining the original name. They hide their votes with obscure resolutions. The language of the bills is usually indecipherable by any normal person. I can only say that there are a few links to help with it, and analyses will be written or linked to, to help with this. The front page provides a sample of votes to investigate. And the Washington Post database (see the links on the home page) is particularly helpful, in that it identifies the rollcall number of what it identifies as Key Votes. In any case, once you have graded some bills, you'll be able to review how well individual members of Congress are satisfying your wishes. Campaign promises may be shiny, but votes have a real impact on your life.
The core functionality resides on the Grades page, but you will probably want to start by clicking Grade on one of the items in the Attention List on the home page. The Grades page allows you to select a specific rollcall vote and grade it. The items in the Attention List are a sampling of votes which have been identified as votes of interest.
Specifying the year, House/Senate, and rollcall vote number on the Grades, clicking on Change for one you've already graded, or selecting an item from the Attention List, will bring up a box with 3 sliders in it, something like this;
|File the grade|
Go ahead, play around with it. Use your mouse to drag the values to the left or right. (Warning: the text boxes are not working correctly right now. Entering data directly into them is a waste of time).
What happens? It depends.
If you slide the Weight bar, the boxes to the right of Yes and No will increase or decrease in size.
If you slide the Yes bar, not only will the color and value of the Yes box change, but the No slider will move in opposition to the Yes bar, and its color and value will change along with it.
If you slide the No bar, only its color and value will change. This allows you to set the Yes grade, and allow the No grade to be its opposite, or give each a separate grade, whichever you prefer.
And the color gradation? It goes from red for -100, to green for +100. I find it much easier to look at colors than to try reading numbers, especially when some of those numbers may have a minus sign in front of them. Don't get me started on that "Red=Republican, Blue=Democratic" thing. It's not a party thing. It's a traffic light thing.
You may be wondering why the grading isn't from A to F, or 0 (zero) to 100. The range of -100 to +100 was chosen solely because it makes more sense to me. (Also, I found the calculations easier that way).
To understand the purpose of Weight, I find it useful to think in terms of a classroom. The standard metric for measuring performance in a classroom is a test. In some classes, all grades may have the same weight, so that the final grade is purely the average. In most, there will be major tests which count for a larger percentage of a grade. In this class, you decide how much a "test" counts toward a student's (er, legislator's) final grade. However, it is different from a typical class. Since the weight is an independent number, the effective weight will change with each vote graded. For example, consider a vote given a weight of 25, when there are only 3 votes with a total weight of 30. That vote will be far more important than a vote weighted at 25 when there are 32 votes graded with a total weight of 322.
Implicit in this decision is that some (in fact, most) tests will not count at all. In the less than 8 years of votes in the database, there are more than 8,000 votes. Few people will be in a position to evaluate every vote.
Following up on the "classroom" analogy, instead of separately grading every legislator on every test/vote, there are only two grades per test; one for Y, and one for N.
When you are satisfied with the grades and weight you've entered, click on File the grade, in the bottom right of the box. Your cookie will be updated with the grade, and the box will disappear. (In this FAQ, clicking on the link does nothing).
If you select a rollcall vote which is not in the database (for example, rollcall number 9999), something will be graded, but I'm not sure what. If the rollcall number is valid, the bill number and title will be displayed in the grading box, otherwise only the rollcall itself is displayed. A fix is in development.
When you have graded some votes, you can see who passes, and who fails. Go to the Results page. A list of all Congressmen in the database will be shown, in descending order of grade. The "best" people, by your definition of best, will show first. Their final grade will show as both a number and a colored box, while the grades they received on each vote will be listed across the row in descending importance of the vote. Only the 10 most important grades will show on the row, but all votes (in which that legislator participated) are included in the legislator's grade. Note that only Yes and No votes are considered; "Not Voting" is not included.
In considering individual races, the candidate may have no legislative record to assist you in deciding which candidate you prefer. In that case, you may want to see what grade the average Democratic or Republican candidate will tend to earn, if behavior remains consistent. Then that grade can be compared to the grade for the incumbent (if there is one).
Note that independent or minor parties are not included. The number is too small to be statistically significant.
Pretty much basic arithmetic. For example,
1. the D, R, and A grades on each vote are (Y grade * number of Y votes) + (N grades * number of N votes) / (Y votes + N votes).
2. An individual legislators grade is (sum of (grade * weight) for all graded votes) / sum of weights), where the grade is applied from your Y and N grading, depending on which way they voted. If they did not vote on a bill, that bill will not count in their grade.