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PVS Site Navigation Tutorial: Key Votes

20 August 2008
Written by

Good day, Informed Voter. Thank you for using the Project Vote Smart website to educate yourself about your candidates and elected officials! As you have probably noted, there are many different ways in which you can ascertain issue positions and potential inclinations of your candidates and elected officials. Project Vote Smart provides information on key votes, interest group ratings, campaign finance data, and issue positions via our Political Courage Test, among many other types of information. Below is a brief description of how to navigate the Key Votes sections of our website.

PVS provides coverage of your elected officials' voting records at the national and state levels. You can view a list of key votes by clicking on "Issues and Legislation" on the left side of the PVS home page (in the blue column). The top link on the next page reads "CongressTrack: Key Votes." To view Congressional key votes, click on that link. To view state key votes, click on the link below it, which reads "State Key Votes." We'll assume that you are viewing Congressional key votes for the purposes of this blog entry, but they are organized very similarly (the primary difference in site navigation is that when selecting state key votes, you will be prompted to select a state before viewing any key vote summaries).

Once you have clicked on "CongressTrack: Key Votes" a screen will come up that provides three methods of searching through our key votes database. 1. On the left is a drop down menu that allows you to select a category. Our categories for state and Congressional votes are always the same. You can select a category here in which you are interested, and select a year on the next screen. 2. You can search for a piece of legislation by its number in the middle search engine. You do not need to include the prefix of the legislaion if you do not wish to. Once you have typed in the number click 'Go' or hit enter. 3. On the search engine on the right, you can search by keyword. Again, click 'Go' or hit enter.

After searching by any of these methods, a list of votes matching your criteria will appear. In this list, the date of the vote, the legislation number, the PVS title, and the outcome of the vote will appear. PVS writes all of its own summaries on key votes. To view the summary of a vote, click on the PVS title in this list.

The next screen will be the summary screen. The PVS title will appear at the top, and below the title all key votes related to this piece of legislation will appear (The one in bold type is the one you are viewing currently.). Also listed are the categories associated with this vote, the date of the vote, and the primary sponsor(s) of the legislation. To the right you will find the roll call/record vote number of the vote, the outcome and chamber of the vote, the count of yeas-nays (Yeas are always the first number on our site.), and a link reading "How members voted."

Going down the summary screen you will normally find a PVS synopsis, which is a quick blurb written by PVS that explains very generally what the legislation does (This blurb is not always available in cases where the official title of the legislation sufficiently accomplishes this purpose.). In cases where this vote is part of an unusual legislative procedure or where the legislation itself is of a special type, a note will appear under the synopsis that explains the implications of the special procedure/legislation.

Further down the screen the official title of the legislation appears. This title is not written by PVS, but is instead the filed official title of the legislation as written by the author of the legislation. PVS does not amend this title.

In cases where additional detail is needed to supplement the official title and/or PVS synopsis, highlights will also be available on this screen. Each highlight focuses on a facet of the bill that has received media attention as a key point of the legislation. PVS does not speculate on the impact that a piece of legislation will have (as analyzation may lead to partisan labels), and each highlight only summarizes the text of the legislation itself and translates it from legal jargon into more easily understood language.

Next down the screen will be a link to the text of the legislation in question. For state summaries, this link will open a pdf or Word document of the text. For Congressional summaries, the link will lead to a page on the Library of Congress website that itself provides links to all of the text versions of the legislation (to learn the differences between Congressional text versions, click here). Below the link to the text of the legislation the other actions on this legislation, if any, will be listed. If any of these other actions have also been selected as key votes, you will be able to click on them here to jump to their summaries. Finally, the primary sponsor(s) will again be listed, and any cosponsors of the legislation will also be present. In Congress, there is generally only one primary sponsor, but the number of cosponsors allowed is unlimited. You can click on the names of sponsors and cosponsors on this page to view more information about them.

Back up at the top right of the screen, click on the "How members voted" link. This will open a page that lists how all of the Representatives/Senators voted on this vote. You can click on the heading of any column (i.e. "Name" or "Party") to sort the list by that column. PVS vote breakdowns list five different types of votes. "Y" is representative of a 'yea' vote, "N" is a 'nay' vote, "NV" is a 'not voting' (whether present or not), "PY" is a 'paired yea' vote, and "PN" is a 'paired nay' vote. Paired yeas and paired nays are occasionally used when one member of the chamber is present and one is not, and they would like to be recorded as voting opposite each other. The present member will submit his/her vote and announce that they are pairing with an absent member who would have voted opposite the present member. Therefore their votes negate each other. This is an agreement that is cordially reached between the two members before the vote takes place.

This is the end of the overview of the information presented in a PVS key vote summary. However, if you would like to view all of the key votes of a certain candidate or elected official, you can do that on our site, as well. In the box at the top of the blue column on the left side of the screen, just type in the person's last name. A list will come up with candidates/officials with similar names (note that candidates are listed at the bottom below currently sitting officials). Click on the name you want to get to that person's biography. Below the person's picture there are several links to various kinds of information. One of these links will read "Voting Record." Click on that to view the key votes affiliated with this individual.

As always, if you have any questions please call us at 1-888-VOTE-SMART (1-888-868-3762) or email us at Have a great day!

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