June Common Ground E-Newsletter

30 June 2013

Meeting Sandra Day O'Connor

by Darren McDivitt

The staff members at the Austin satellite office stress the importance of the learning experience our internship program offers, and our interns do a tremendous job in the office itself. However, we are always looking for new opportunities that will help reinforce the importance of their contributions to voter education through Project Vote Smart. With this approach in mind, we jumped at the opportunity for our staff and interns to attend a discussion on civics, featuring former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Hosted by our partners at UT, Austin, the Annette Strauss Institute, the discussion touched on a variety of topics ranging from Justice O’Connor’s background, to her experiences as the first female Supreme Court Justice. She proved to be an entertaining speaker, weaving humorous anecdotes into the discussion while showing a strong passion for the work she did working in Arizona and in the Supreme Court. The discussion concluded on the topic of civics education and Justice O’Connor’s role as the founder of iCivics. iCivics seeks to promote civics education by providing factual information, lesson plans, and interactive tools for use at the K-12 level.

When the opportunity to attend this event was announced, our staff and interns jumped at the chance to reserve spots, and found the experience very rewarding. “Her personable approach to the conversation struck me as very interesting. I have always admired her career, yet to see her personality and spot-on sense of humor made her even more inspiring” said summer intern Lindsay Drew.

Others felt that her comments helped clarify the importance of the type of work they are doing this summer.

“It was interesting how Justice O’Connor focused on the importance of reliable resources for civics education. She reinforced my thoughts on how important it is for citizens to understand what is occurring in the courts, but also to be informed about their elected officials” said summer intern Rob Evans.

While we plan on continuing to incorporate outside discussions into the Austin internship program, we realize that it is unlikely that we will ever have the chance to listen to a Supreme Court Justice speak in-person. It was a tremendous opportunity and one that contributed greatly to the work environment for our staff and interns.

The Right Stuff

by Jim Harrold

“Hello! My name is Jim Harrold, and I am the Office Manager for Project Vote Smart.” As the person in charge of interviewing and evaluating all job and internship applicants, I've started a lot of conversations this way. It's part of my job to talk to people, to learn about them in order to gauge whether they have the “right stuff” to make a positive contribution to Project Vote Smart's mission. Deciding who has that stuff is a challenging duty, and one I've given a lot of thought.

What do we look for when we hire a new researcher? What do we want in an intern? These questions strike at the core of Project Vote Smart's identity. Our organization is profoundly affected by the composition of our staff and intern workforce. These folks do the work, keep the Great Divide Ranch up and running, and ultimately dictate the nature of Project Vote Smart through their own experiences. Given the incredible work they do, it's easy to rattle off sentiments and platitudes when describing the people who come and work for us: Amazing. Dedicated. Exceptional. Outstanding.

These words are reflections. They are our attempt to appreciate the singular qualities of character and personality that a successful internship or work experience with Project Vote Smart requires. We are on a mission to help this country save itself, to educate millions of voters, and to make our government remember that it is accountable to the people. We do all of this on a non-profit budget, from a remote fastness in the awesome Rocky Mountains, largely fueled by the goodwill of our members and the idealism of the college students, young adults, and member-volunteers who give a few weeks or a few years of their lives to our cause. This is a challenging undertaking that many apply to join. Yet we accept only a fraction of the hundreds of individuals who seek internships and jobs with Project Vote Smart. What sets the best apart from the rest?

What we look for, first and foremost, is a clarity of vision. Project Vote Smart needs researchers and workers who understand the stakes and appreciate the long-term goals of the organization. It needs individuals who can understand how their work, which at times is tedious and challenging, contributes vitally to the success of a great and decades-long enterprise. It's far too easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day doldrums of an office environment, and unless someone values our work's long-term impacts, they won't make a positive impact themselves.

Next is intelligence. We gauge their understanding of the current political climate, and we look for an intellectual appreciation of our nation's plight. Emotional attachment to the ideal of a better government is well and good, but with democracy, the devil is in the details. We ask our staff and interns to do challenging research on topics that span the range of American political issues, from tax codes to foreign policy stances. To understand and dissect an elected official’s stance on these issues, and to explain those stances in a way that voters will find informative and useful, a bright and skeptical mind is needed.

Finally, we want everyone who joins us in Montana to be passionate about our work. They must care about politics, and just being a “political junkie” isn't enough. We look for people who care about a cause, about an issue, or for a leader. These people are able to take the complex, frustrating, ugly process of democracy and make it a part of their lives, and that is the kind of commitment we know will flourish at the Ranch. We look for people who will leave Project Vote Smart proud that they were part of a greater and worthy cause.

In a way, we look for people like our members. These people are what make Project Vote Smart run, succeed, and grow. These are the people who are devoted to seeing the mission through and making it possible by donating their time to come out and volunteer, unpaid, for two weeks at a time. And these are the people who, even in the years that they can't come out themselves, still find a way to contribute either financially, or just by spreading the word of what Vote Smart is and what we do. It's a sort of dream of ours to have everyone who finds Vote Smart to become engaged in our organization and actively participate through joining our staff, interning and volunteering, or donating and becoming a member. If you're not already a part of the Vote Smart team, please check out our internship, volunteer, and membership pages to see how you can become involved.


by Hannah Stewart

Although today happens to be a pretty wet and, as my Scottish family would say, “dreich” day, the summer is fully in swing here at the Project Vote Smart headquarters in Philipsburg, MT. And that means that we're also in the full swing of intern season!

This year's summer interns are already making a big difference here, and we're happy to say that we have a great batch of graphic designers, videographers, writers and photographers here, willing to help us share photos and stories of their experiences across a range of social media platforms.

We want to invite you to follow us and see what this unique research organization has to offer to staff, interns and volunteers alike!


One of our Development and Communications interns, Taryn, is assisting with our Instagram account and is running with it - posting fantastic pictures of our ranch and environs. And although it may seem like we're in our own little world out here in the wilderness, we still like to keep in touch with the thousands of people who have supported us in one way or another over the years – so click here, follow us, and leave a comment if you like!


Over the course of a year we amass a huge number of great pictures of this beautiful green, and often snow covered place, and our other Development and Communications intern, Chelsea, has been working on making them into great ads for some of our programs on Facebook. That's right – no stock photos here! Remember to check our Facebook page for some of Chelses's creations – like them, share them, and tell your friends to follow us too! We also update our Facebook page regularly with public statements, articles, job openings and more...


Our IT Department is gearing up to launch the newest version of our website within the next few weeks, and one of the new features will be a live Twitter feed on our blog page. So for those of you that prefer Twitter to Facebook, you can keep up-to-date with all our research and news! In the meantime, follow us on Twitter here!

We're also hard at work on content for our blog, so check back regularly for more updates and articles soon!

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