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December Common Ground E-Newsletter

14 December 2012

Happy Holidays from POTUS, Abigail, Richard & Adelaide


Senior Advisor, Adelaide Kimball with Project Vote Smart's mascots, POTUS and Abigail...

Q & A with Katy Dupre, Research Director 

As many of you have already heard, we're making big changes here at Vote Smart for the coming year. Among the new changes, we've named Katy Dupre our new research director. Hannah Stewart of the Development and Communications department did a brief interview with Katy to give you all a chance to get to know her and some of her visions for the department.

What originally got you interested in working at Project Vote Smart?

I started working at Project Vote Smart just after receiving my master's degree in political science from the University of New Orleans. My graduate work centered around the effect that the national televised medium had on political knowledge, at the individual level. The new level of interest and knowledge I gained from my master's work really led me to Vote Smart and it's mission.

What department did you work in before becoming Research Director?

I've worked in various departments – The Political Courage Test, Quality Control and Communications. But my focus has been in the research department since September 2011.

What particular aspect of your new role were you excited to take on?

I'm excited to help strengthen the relationships that we have with our partner organizations that are directly related to the research department, like the National Institute on Money in State Politics and Center for Responsive Politics, which we use for campaign finance information. Additionally, I like having the opportunity to further my knowledge in the areas of the department that I am least familiar with like Special Interest Group ratings and Campaign Finance information. Helping the department progress by providing staff members with the room to learn new skill sets and apply those skill sets in order to understand the data our department gathers is also something I'm looking forward to furthering in 2013.

What future projects do the Research Department have planned for 2013 and beyond?

We plan to put public statements and issue positions to use by connecting them with data from other departments at Vote Smart. Ultimately, we hope to connect biographical data, public statements, campaign finance and ratings to how people act in office or during campaign season.

Why do you feel Project Vote Smart is important?

Because factual, non-partisan information is hard to come by these days. There are many different information sources out there, but we are the only one that covers every elected official and we don't pick and choose what data we gather - we take it all and put into one central location. We allow voters to decide for themselves which candidate or current officials best represents their own individual beliefs and concerns based on facts, not emotion or rhetoric.

Vote Smart during this holiday season

As the wind, rain and snow rushes down our mountain valley turnpike, we're staying warm at the Great Divide Ranch thanks to our boiler, “Bessie,” and the piles of wood beside her.

The office is bustling with new assignments and ideas as we ramp up coverage of new officials. As you prepare for the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, remember that can be a part of you holiday planning, too!

Perhaps you're planning a trip to visit family this December, but before you set out, maybe you'd like to visit the local government's website and make your arrival known. We've been diligently hammering out city and county information, so take some time and get acquainted with the towns you plan to visit. And you never know, there's a chance you'll meet the Mayor of Murray City, Utah.

Are you struggling to find the perfect gift for the political-junkie in your life? Consider a gift membership to Project Vote Smart. Click here to donate now and check the “Make my contribution a gift” box to give your loved ones the gift of up-to-date information on their elected officials.

Whether you're planning a classic mountain getaway or escaping to more tropical climbs, we'll be here you when need the facts! Newly-elected state legislators in Hawaii, Oklahoma, and Indiana have just been sworn into office and we're getting ready to update many more!

See you in an exciting 2013!

Sarkis Peha

Research Department

Vote Smart's Future

Vote Smart staff and board members began conducting a series of meetings in October. Knowing of VoteEasy’s popularity during the 2012 election, Vote Smart staff began setting in motion a series of research and retooling efforts to make far more striking interactive data visualizations possible.

A sampling of ideas currently being discussed and worked on at Vote Smart and the Texas Advanced Computer Center at the University of Texas include:

Political Galaxy: An interactive application that would automatically combine like pieces of information that a user has expressed interest in. For example: If a user asks how Sen. Reid voted on off-shore oil drilling the tool would swirl together the galaxy of political data that Vote Smart represents lighting up those stars that represent information related to the user’s inquiry. Not only the answer requested. but other stars where related information exists would appear as well. This might be contributions from oil or environmental interests, interest group ratings, public statements, previous issue positions or even biographical data showing experience in the subject matter. This would reduce the current need for up to an hour of research in our database to a few minutes.

Report Card: When a voter wants to see how a candidate is rated by various special interests they could go to our databases and instead of seeing long lists of digits representing more than 200 competing special interests, they would simply see a report card much like one would get in school. They draw their cursor through the names of the special interests they are concerned with and the grades would instantly appear, representing the evaluations done on them by those organizations.

Ocean of Cash: Again, instead of seeing endless rows of digits representing campaign contributions from interests, a user would simply see a seething ocean of dollar bills. As they draw their cursor through the names of special interests the ocean peaks in waves or drops into troughs representing the relative amount of money received from each interest.

Candidate Cloud: A representation of each candidate’s preference for key words or phrases shown in clouds representing the issues they talked about most often. For example, if “border fence” is a popular theme it would show up as a large cloud. If “acid rain” is rarely or never mentioned it would be a tiny cloud or not appear at all.

Web/Mobile App: This involves the designing of all our interactive tools and our web site itself into systems that can easily be used and understood on hand held devices.

These and perhaps other innovative ideas will all require retooling of Vote Smart’s databases and the way staff collects and inputs data. If we are successful, these innovations will be a very powerful antidote to the manipulations of modern-day political tactics.

Richard Kimball


Holiday Season Giveaway!


The first person who can tell us who appears on the Obama family's Holiday Greeting card, by emailing the answer to, will receive some Vote Smart goodies!

Remember to include your name and mailing address!

Related tags: blog, e-newsletter, Political-Galaxy, staff-members

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