Despite the constant rain that blanketed the Great Divide Ranch on June 4, 2008, 27 foreign journalists arrived at Project Vote Smart with smiles and enthusiasm. Within Project Vote Smart's 16-year history, this event marks the first time any national journalist has visited the Ranch. These journalists traveled from countries such as Afghanistan, Niger, and Tajikistan-just to name a few-to gain a better understanding of the U.S. Government and American society so they could more accurately cover events in their home countries.
"The main goal is to find out about American government and its transparency," said Doris from the Washington DC State department.
The visit to the PVS ranch was just one stop on the 10-day reporting tour themed "The Nuts and Bolts of an American Election: An Insider Look at How to Run an Election." Through the collaboration of numerous foreign embassies, these journalists traveled from Washington D.C. to the Montana Rockies to get a diverse and inside look at the American election system.
For Moleka Ido Lekota, a political editor for The Sowetan in South Africa, he hoped to learn how to help the people of his country vote intelligently. "My people vote out of fear. They vote emotionally and that must change."
To get an insider look at Project Vote Smart, each department provided a short presentation highlighting how their work aids voters. The journalists were then given a tour of the office and allowed to conduct one-on-one interviews with the staff and interns. Overall, the journalists found the atmosphere at the Great Divide Ranch quite refreshing. The crisp mountain air combined with the sight of nearly 30 student interns working to serve their fellow citizens left many of them in awe.
"In my country, people expect something in return. There is not a good system of encouragement," admitted Sultan Mohammad from Afghanistan. He was impressed by the dedication of these young adults who are living and working in the middle of nowhere. With Afghanistan's first presidential election just four years into history, Mohammad was skeptical about being able to implement such an organization in his country, but he believes Project Vote Smart is an excellent example for other countries to emulate.
After the tour, everyone joined together for lunch and mingling. The lodge was lit with smiles, conversation and numerous photo opportunities; it was truly a scene of convergence and cooperation. At the end of the 3-hour visit, the journalists left well-equipped with exactly what they had come to gain: new knowledge and power to bring back to their own country.