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Now Tracking Legislation Impacting You

2 August 2012

If you poke around the internet you can probably find a voting record for your representative or senators. But finding out how they voted on something and finding out what they were voting for can be two very different things. Maybe your senator voted for the “Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012” (S 3364), but what exactly is “a fair share” and who's paying it? Or perhaps your representative voted for the “Domestic Energy and Jobs Act” (HR 4480), but how does it create jobs, or domestic energy? To get the full story you probably already know to go to and search our Key Votes. What you might not know is how that bill got to be a “Key Vote” and the work that went into providing you all that information, on all those bills.

  • The first step in the process to becoming a key vote involves tracking legislation in Congress and all 50 state legislatures. Staff and interns, working at our national headquarters in Montana and our Key Votes office at the University of Texas in Austin, read news articles, check dockets, and contact our advisers* in each state to decide which bills would qualify for Key Vote status. If you want to know more about how we select Key Votes, click here.
  • Next we have a “selection meeting”. All the interns and staff in our Legislative Research department gather together and propose bills. They argue for why the bill fits our criteria, such as how close the vote was or the amount of press coverage it is getting, and staff members vote on it.
  • If a bill makes it through the selection meeting, the basic information about the bill (the votes, the sponsors/cosponsors, when it was introduced etc.) is researched. After three checks to make sure the information is correct, we release that preliminary information onto our website. 
  • After the votes are online, we start to write the summary. Interns and staff find the correct versions of the bill text and carefully go over the entire bill – making sure to highlight the “important” sections that get the most press, but also looking for the parts of the legislation that might not make it into the echo chamber.
  • Once a summary is written it is checked and re-checked three times to make sure every part is 100% accurate. We make sure the language is completely non-partisan and easy to understand, so that you can make up your own mind, regardless of what the talking heads are saying.
When we are completely sure our entire summary is correct, from the primary intent of the bill to the effective date, we release the summary live to our website so that you can see not just how your senator voted, but what they voted for.

* We have at least two Key Votes advisers in every state. These are political journalists or professors with knowledge of their particular state legislature who keep us informed about what bills will matter most to voters in their state. We take their suggestions along with other criteria when deciding which state-level bills should be taken as Key Votes.

Related tags: blog, key-votes, Montana, Texas,

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