Saving local political websites for community history

September 14th, 2022

by Melody Kramer, Graduate Student (Master of Library and Information Science), University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Each year, thousands of people run for local political offices across the United States. Many of them create websites and social media sites to reach potential voters. But after each election cycle, thousands of candidate websites disappear from the web.

The Library of Congress archives sites associated with presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial elections, but local candidate websites — particularly for suburban and rural locations — are not currently captured systematically.

Last year I worked with the Internet Archive and Archive-It to find and archive local candidate election websites from the 2021 election cycle in the United States. We captured thousands of sites that may be of interest to future journalists, researchers, historians, and communities.

Why is it important to capture these sites?

As a former journalist and current library student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I understand the importance of capturing these important digital artifacts from an election cycle.

They tell us about the people running, their platforms, and their vision for their communities – and they disappear from the web quickly after an election cycle ends.

For example, my Archive-It instance tracked school board election candidates from across the country – I archived each site weekly, and tracked how quickly the sites disappeared from the web after the election cycle ended.

Screenshots showing the campaign website of Issaquah School Board candidate Dr. Wendy Ghiora when it was online in 2021 and after it came down in 2022

Campaign website of Issaquah School Board candidate Dr. Wendy Ghiora as archived in 2021 (left) and 2022 (right)

How to ask your community to help

Local elections are also a great way to introduce your community to digital archiving work. Every community has local elections happening on various known cycles. Every community has websites that help tell the story of that community. And most candidates running for office have websites.

Community members can help by submitting website addresses, running QA on websites submitted, or adding metadata. Nonpartisan groups like your local chapter of the League of Women Voters may also have information to collect.

An easy way to start is by asking your community “What would you like to see us archive this election cycle?” or “What websites are most important to save in this election cycle?” Examples can include local political candidate websites, local political party websites, local news endorsement guides about the election, civic engagement guides from local community groups, or social media sites for the candidates or election-related organizations. You can also ask, “Would you like to help find sites or suggest sites or both?” if you’d like to teach community members to do this work on their own.

Starting a civic archiving project serves a few purposes: it helps engage people in local election cycles, and it helps collect information that can be archived.

Another option is to teach community members how to submit websites on their own to the Internet Archive (and how to install the browser plug-in.) Election cycles allow for concrete start and end dates to a community archiving project, and have a sense of immediacy which propels people to act quickly. This sense of immediacy can also create community quickly, which may help sustain the project.

Providing communities with specific digital archiving projects with limited time-frames adds a sense of urgency to completion, which can also inspire people to get involved. This sense of immediacy can also create community quickly, which may help sustain the project.

Melody Kramer (@mkramer) is pursuing a master’s in library and information sciences at UNC-G. She has worked for NPR, the Wikimedia Foundation and 18F and currently leads communications for the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.