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Why I volunteer

17 November 2011

By Fran Gardner, Member of Project Vote Smart
I’m Fran Gardner, a semi-retired journalist from Portland, Oregon. This year, I  spent two weeks in the Montana Rockies as a volunteer for Project Vote Smart. I and other volunteers, young and old and in between, spend long days researching what candidates say, how elected officials vote, and whose money is behind each person who runs for office at the national and state levels.
Why do I do it? Because it matters.

Sure, the work is dull, boring, and repetitive, but it helps to know that it is vital. And, frankly, the setting more than makes up for it. When I look up from my work, I see mountainsides cloaked with tall, proud evergreens. Sunlight plays through the shivering leaves of the aspens planted just outside. This year, a moose family complete with a youngster has been spotted on the banks of nearby Moose Lake. Even the food served in the dining lodge is something to write home about.
But the best part of it all is the sure understanding that what I do makes a difference. That if it weren’t for me—and others like me—something unique, precious, and irreplaceable would be lost.
Information, at least unbiased information, has become an endangered species, and the Republic will be in real danger when it disappears entirely. The change won’t be immediate. It’ll creep up on us unaware, and we’ll be like the proverbial frog in the pot of cold water that doesn’t realize the heat has been slowly rising until it’s cooked.
Politicians—and their handlers—have discovered that emotion, not information, wins elections. And voters are discovering that, a few months down the road, the issues their candidate seemed so passionate about aren’t being addressed—and won’t be. How much more useful it would be if a voter could find out where a candidate really stands BEFORE the election. That’s the role Project Vote Smart is striving to fill.
Well, I’m as passionate as any voter. I believe in truth and fairness. I know from my newspaper career that the slogans and simple solutions that prevail on the campaign trail are seldom backed up by action once the dust of the election has settled. Project Vote Smart has the potential to change how campaigns are run.
A casual mention on network TV news of the Vote Smart's VoteEasy tool on Election Day 2010 generated so much web traffic that the Vote Smart's servers were jammed for several hours. That’s the power of information.
Voters aren’t stupid; they know that political ads are emotionally deceptive, and they hunger for real facts. Project Vote Smart can help. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be spending two weeks in Montana, even with the great scenery, fellowship, and food.
I hope that others—that YOU—will follow in the footsteps of me and my fellow volunteers. Come to Montana and help us do research, or contact our satellites at the University of Southern California or the University of Texas at Austin. Write us a check or submit an online donation and become a Member today. Most importantly, check in regularly at and use the interactive tool VoteEasy, which promises to add a little fun to your candidate research.
You, too, could be an "environmentalist," working for the preservation of truth.

Best Wishes,


Related tags: blog, Oregon, volunteers, vote-easy

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