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Media

How I Came to Be Involved with Project Vote Smart

15 May 2008
Written by

My name is Peter Quist, and I am a staff member here at the Project. I have been working in the Key Votes Department here for a little over a year and a half, tracking and summarizing state and Congressional legislation. I was hired in November of 2006.

Like most of the staff here, I was a recent college graduate when I applied for a research position at the Project. Our staff is comprised of people from all over the country. I am from South Dakota and attended South Dakota State University (go Jackrabbits!). I graduated with a degree in political science. While I was in school I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I got out. I chose to study political science primarily because I was not well versed (frankly I was almost completely ignorant) about the activities of my government or other areas of the world. I studied political science just to educate myself about politics and the struggle of different people to attain different ends through government. Most of my studies centered on international politics.

At the time I graduated from SDSU, I still had not determined what I wanted to do. During my studies I had not come across any causes I wanted to join, any politicians or levels of politics I wanted to be involved with, or anything else that had lit a fire under me. I moved from my college town of Brookings, SD to Sioux Falls, SD and spent the summer working an internship for the South Dakota Department of Transportation and spent most of the fall looking for a career and living cheaply off of the money I had left over from college. In October, as the 2006 elections drew near, I went online to see if I could educate myself about my state legislative candidates. I did not even know at that time who the state legislative officials were for my district. Little did I know what I would find...

I typed a search for South Dakota legislative candidates in Google and the first result on the list was from an outfit called Project Vote Smart. I jumped on the website and saw that it claimed to be non-partisan. I had seen that talk before, from other sites that don't affiliate themselves with political parties but are still pursuing an agenda of some sort, but I checked out the site a bit. I was very impressed by how extensive the information was, but, more importantly, by the measures PVS took to maintain their non-partisan approach. At that moment I realized that the only thing that I felt fired up about and wanted to work to combat was the apathy of voters in America. I did not at that time, nor do I now, subscribe to the idea that the average voting-age citizen of this country is going to wade through mind-boggling and procedural information for hours and hours in order to cast one informed vote. But suddenly I had found a tool by which citizens could find information on almost all of their candidates in the same place, and that place provided a wide variety of information on each candidate yet made that information easy to navigate and select from. The information was free to anybody and truly objectively presented! This to my mind was the best possible method of combating the apathy of citizens toward their own government.

Obviously there are and always will be some people who just honestly don't care about the activities of their government or how they will be affected, but I believe that much of the cause for low voter turnouts and tendency of some voters to cast ballots based on criteria such as a familiar-sounding name are results of the actual or perceived inability to educate themselves without much effort. Project Vote Smart was the answer.

As I stated, I've been working for PVS here in the beautiful Montana Rockies now for over eighteen months, and I literally couldn't be happier with my choice. It has been, and continues to be, an amazing experience. How many of us finish a day at work knowing that we have produced something millions of people are looking for?

That's an amazing feeling.

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