Stuffing the Ballot Box

For a website that calls itself “Townhall,” it certainly doesn’t operate anything like a public forum.

The lovely thing about, say, poetry, is that it operates at only one, totally transparent level – the text – which yet permits a limitless amount of potential interpretations. Not so for websites, which only display a fraction of the actual coding going on behind the scenes, and the folks at the conservative web publication Townhall.com seem to have adopted something of an anti-poetic model: pre-supplied answers, with no potential equivocation. In a recent poll, the website asked “Who would you most like to see running the country?” and, perhaps predictably given the site’s clientele, 94% of respondents would seem to prefer anyone but Obama, Biden, Clinton, or Pelosi.

Credit: Townhall.com

But maybe not so predictably. Pulling the page source for one of these polls (here displayed as a sidebar to Michael Gerson’s editorial, which was referenced in an earlier post), shows us the following snippet of code. For those with no technical interest in the unadulterated code, just skip down to below the quote:

</style>
<div id=”pollposition”>
<img src=”http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/spacer.gif&#8221; alt=”Poll” style=”border: 0px;”/>

<div>
<span id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_lblTitle”>Who would you most like to see running the country?</span>
</div>
<div id=”pnlVote”>
<div>
<table id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions” border=”0″>
<tr>
<td><input id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_0″ type=”radio” name=”ctl00$cphMain$GenericPoll1$rblQuestions” value=”453″ /><label for=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_0″>Barack Obama</label></td>

</tr><tr>
<td><input id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_1″ type=”radio” name=”ctl00$cphMain$GenericPoll1$rblQuestions” value=”454″ /><label for=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_1″>Joe Biden</label></td>
</tr><tr>
<td><input id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_2″ type=”radio” name=”ctl00$cphMain$GenericPoll1$rblQuestions” value=”455″ /><label for=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_2″>Hillary Clinton</label></td>
</tr><tr>
<td><input id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_3″ type=”radio” name=”ctl00$cphMain$GenericPoll1$rblQuestions” value=”456″ /><label for=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_3″>Nancy Pelosi</label></td>
</tr><tr>

<td><input id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_4″ type=”radio” name=”ctl00$cphMain$GenericPoll1$rblQuestions” value=”457″ /><label for=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_4″>None of the above</label></td>
</tr>
</table>
</div>
<div align=”center”>
<a href=’javascript:TOWNHALL.homepage.poll.click();’>
<img src=’http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/spacer.gif&#8217; border=”0″ alt=”Vote” />
</a>
</div>

</div>
<div id=”pnlResults” style=”display: none;”>
<div>

<span id=’Result453′>
Barack Obama (3 %)
<br />
<img id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rptResults_ctl00_imgVotes” src=”http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/homepage_poll_red.gif&#8221; style=”height:5px;width:4px;border-width:0px;” />
<br />
</span>

<span id=’Result454′>
Joe Biden (1 %)
<br />
<img id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rptResults_ctl01_imgVotes” src=”http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/homepage_poll_green.gif&#8221; style=”height:5px;width:1px;border-width:0px;” />
<br />
</span>

<span id=’Result455′>
Hillary Clinton (2 %)
<br />
<img id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rptResults_ctl02_imgVotes” src=”http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/homepage_poll_yellow.gif&#8221; style=”height:5px;width:3px;border-width:0px;” />

<br />
</span>

<span id=’Result456′>
Nancy Pelosi (0 %)
<br />
<img id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rptResults_ctl03_imgVotes” src=”http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/homepage_poll_blue.gif&#8221; style=”height:5px;width:5px;border-width:0px;” />
<br />
</span>

<span id=’Result457′>

None of the above (94 %)
<br />
<img id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rptResults_ctl04_imgVotes” src=”http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/homepage_poll_blue.gif&#8221; style=”height:5px;width:153px;border-width:0px;” />
<br />
</span>

</div>
</div>
</div>

To parse this down somewhat, for any given poll option, the poll provides the little bubbled option, a snippet of text, and a call to a specific value, here 453, which should then be fetched later in the code:

<input id=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_0″ type=”radio” name=”ctl00$cphMain$GenericPoll1$rblQuestions” value=”453” /><label for=”ctl00_cphMain_GenericPoll1_rblQuestions_0″>Barack Obama</label>

Yet when it comes time for the code to fetch a value, what’s returned has absolutely no correlation to any input that anyone could possibly provide. Standard procedure is for this process to be handled independently by the coding language itself, which is more than capable of taking a bunch of values, taking a percentage, and then outputting a result, or else having the poll results handled by an independent PHP script which then displays some result, such as this separate, entirely valid example which does not appear in the Townhall code:

<input type=”radio” value=”Barack Obama”  name=”programming_language_en”  />&nbsp;&nbsp;<span onclick=”document.vote.programming_language_en[2].checked=true;” style=”cursor:default;”>

But what the Townhall poll does instead is to simply re-input a pre-selected value. There is no call to any outside algorithm like “document.vote, etc” above. Once someone has voted, what is displayed by Townhall is:

<span id=’Result453‘> Barack Obama (3 %)

That “453” value from before simply refers us to this exact spot. No matter what else happens, no matter what the outcome, Barack Obama always receives 3% of the vote. This sort of juggling is likewise maintained in the very bar graphs that the page correlates with each supposed vote:

<span id=’Result457′> None of the above (94 %)<br />
<img … src=”http://media.townhall.com/Townhall/homepage_poll_blue.gif&#8221; style=”height:5px;width:153px;border-width:0px;” />

The .gif image supplied is a link to a one-pixel image (which can be seen, barely, here) hosted on the Townhall webpage. The rest of the text tells the page just how long that image should be repeated for, so that “None of the above’s” 94% is simply displayed across 153 pixels as opposed to Nancy Pelosi’s far humbler 5. This would be absolutely normal if it were fetched after an individual vote was submitted, but it isn’t: the information remains there even in the site’s default view (an image at the time of my visit can be seen here). Those values shouldn’t exist unless a prior condition (ie, someone actually voting) is previously met.

What is achieved through all of this is the illusion of a functioning poll, but with the important half, the half where people actually get to express an opinion about anything, outright gutted. For a site that lists, along its navigation bar, not just “Columnists” but “Conservative Columnists,” it’s difficult to imagine why it would be necessary to supply answers to such a leading poll topic in advance. But as I suppose Bush v. Gore has shown us, if you can’t supply the votes…well, I guess you have to provide your own.

Credit to http://www.stadtaus.com, for supplying the legitimate polling code here.

And credit to Townhall.com, for all the rest.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s