Senate Reverses Policy, Posts Votes in XML

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The US Senate has finally reversed its longstanding policy of restricting public access to raw data about how Senators vote, and is now posting XML of votes on Senate.gov.

This move follows a recent initiative, led by Senator DeMint, to request the Senate Rules Committee post the votes data.

While this issue may seem to be arising out of the blue, with recent coverage in the Politico, Senate votes XML have been brooched as a perennial roadblock. It would seem, however, that the number of people affected by the restriction grew to the point where they could no longer be ignored, and common sense prevailed.

Just as the recent rewriting of Web use restrictions has led to creative Internet use among Members of Congress, the new votes data should help fuel a renaissance of vote analysis and visualization. XML encourages advanced processing and analysis, making votes legible to both humans and computers, and giving us a new view on how Senators vote.

Senator DeMint and Senator Durbin deserve praise for quickly acting to address the data issue, as do many staffers and administrators. Senator Lieberman expressed support for vote data access in the fall of 2007, and Jerry Brito wrote about the issue earlier that year as well.

This is what transparency reform looks like. Complicated, messy, confusing, often bipartisan, often initially unsuccessful, and helpfully spurred on through public involvement. If this case serves as any example at all, we should be very encouraged about future efforts.

For today, though, Nice Work, Senate!

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  • Paul

    The document looks good to me. It is “well formed,” which means its syntax is okay, but it isn’t “valid” because it doesn’t declare a DTD, hence there is no criteria against which to validate it. The roll_call_vote element is there in the file. It’s the outermost element. You can check for well-formeded nice on a mac/unix system by running a command like this:

    $ xmllint –debug ~/Desktop/vote_111_1_00179.xml

    So this means that the file is perfectly useable for whatever processing you want to do. If your xml software requires a DTD, then you could always write one. The structure looks simple enough.

  • @Robert Now the good news… if only one element is missing that’s a huge win over almost every other XML feed on the web. Validation is notoriously underrated, as I wish it wasn’t.

  • Robert

    Now the bad news.

    The URL you provide is not a valid XML file.

    I ran it for validation at WC3 and Validome. Both gave unvalid reports.

    It is missing the element ‘roll_call_vote’.

  • Des

    Great work! This will make it easier for students of the future to analyse vote trends etc.