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February Common Ground E-Newsletter

7 March 2014

Dear future Vote Smart volunteers,

This is the end of our 5th week in 2 years at Vote Smart as volunteers.  We are from Kalispell,  MT so for us, to travel from door to door is about 4 hours.  My husband and I braved the January snow of 2012 for our first 2 week volunteer internship at Vote Smart and returned again in September of 2012 to see what it was like in the milder weather. It was an election year and the "machine" of Vote Smart was hurriedly compiling and verifying information.   We felt the call to return again in January of 2014 to offer our skills and talents to the staff and interns at Vote Smart.  

You may ask, why do we make the time?  It has been and remains important to us to involve ourselves with our local community and other valued organizations.  Before retirement, we had lived and worked overseas for 34 years as employees of the Department of Defense.  We learned about Vote Smart when my husband was a Voting Assistance Officer for the civilians at Menwith Hill Station near Harrogate,  England.  We discovered that Vote Smart offered all voters, no matter where they were from, an excellent non-partisan, unbiased source of candidate information allowing the voter to make an informed decision before sending off their absentee ballot or when they returned to the states, standing at their local polling station.

As a volunteer, you have the chance to assist with various important processes at Vote Smart: data input, membership outreach, verifying donations, reviewing candidate information, researching or verifying statistical material to insure vital Vote Smart data is the most accurate for the American voters.  The work environment provides computer stations for each team member to perform their duties.

Additionally, we enjoyed the camaraderie with the staff and interns who we worked with at the Great Divide Ranch. Wintertime volunteers are involved in meal prep as well as office work.  As with all communal living arrangements, you are assigned a chore for the week that is easily doable. Learning about the varied backgrounds and experiences of each individual intern, staff member or volunteer is an education and rewarding in and of itself. The main lodge is the communal gathering place for meals, Wi-Fi access, TV viewing or just sitting in front of the fireplace with a great read. We are housed in cabins that pretty much can only be used for sleeping with shared bath facilities. Yes, there are strict rules for our safety and enjoyment. It is important to remember that the Great Divide Ranch is just that, a rustic rural ranch environment with few of the creature comforts, like cell phone coverage. We must realize that it is located about 27 miles away from the nearest community, Philipsburg, MT, (population around 800). 

After a hard day of work, there is so much to do in an outdoor mountain environment. The advantages here are amazing year-round hiking, fishing, tennis, mountain biking, and canoeing. In the winter ice fishing, cross country, and even, down hill skiing at Discovery, outside of Georgetown, MT are available. On the weekends, Butte is quite a historical town to experience  and Fairmont Hot Springs is recommended as well. Missoula has lots to offer, too, if you want to venture away for your weekends. If you are not up for travel, then there is Philipsburg, with events like trivia night at the Philipsburg Brewery, antique stores, the world renowned local candy shop, or you can share a hamburger at Doe Brothers, just to name a few, we even found a few local geocaches. 

Casual, warm clothing is always recommended as it can be cool even in the summer. We live in Montana, so we never really put away all the cold weather clothing.  Bring gear for the adventures you'd like to experience, come with an open mind, willingness to share your skills and talents and be prepared to "check your politics at the door."


Leeland (Wally) and Vicky Walbruch

Vote Smart Member Volunteers

If you're interested in coming out to volunteer in 2014 please let us know! Send an email to, give us a call at 406-8590-8683, or fill out our volunteer application here and we'll be happy to get you all the information you need.

Freedom of Information could be your Legacy

by Adelaide Elm Kimball

Sometimes it seems like a big part of Richard's job is to alert our supporters when we have problems and challenges--the gloom and doom report!  So to keep some balance in the family, and share with you some of the more positive details of our financial situation, I will give you an occasional fact or two that focuses on the generous support our members are sending our way.  This past month we have noted the following:

Since January 1st we have received two bequests, totaling $27,000.  We are grateful to long-time supporters Patricia Kaspar and Sheila Knop, and share our thanks and sympathy with their families.

In 2013 15 of our members rolled over a total of $27,400 in donations to Vote Smart from their IRAs.  We hope their tax benefit was as welcome on their end as being the recipient of their generosity is on our end!  This extra income is helping our staff prepare to release new voter programs like Political Galaxy later this spring--which are very expensive.  Let's hope Congress renews the IRA Charitable Rollover program again for 2014.  Since it began in 2006, it has generated enormous mutual benefits for both donors and non-profit organizations doing critical good work.

Thank you for your support of our work and please let us know if you would like more information about Vote Smart's interest and need for Legacy Gifts.  Contact or call 406-859-8683.

It the mean time, in between time

by Laura Enriquez

There may not be a Presidential election this year, but it is still an election year. In November, all 435 seats in the House Representatives, 33 of 100 in the Senate seats will be contested as well as 38 State and Territorial Governors, 46 State Legislatures, and many Mayoral and Local and State Offices. And that's to say nothing of the countless citizen initiatives that voters will decide. Vote Smart researchers are hard at work keeping track of all the people and issues that voters care about. The Political Courage Test department is preparing to contact all candidates before the Primaries begin. As well our award winning interactive application, VoteEasy, is being updated to allow users to find the Congressional candidates whose issue positions most closely match their own. Vote Smart's dedicated staff and interns are doing everything possible to make sure that mid-term voters are armed with unbiased information.

We're pleased to introduce you to one of our newest Research Associates:

Name: Andrew Bennett

Birthday: 9/26/1986

Hometown: Morris, CT

Education background: Masters and Bachelors from the University of Connecticut in Political Science, specifically focusing on International Relations and Political Theory.

Before arriving at Vote Smart I was getting my masters and then working as a Building Substitute at a CT middle school.  

Since arriving in MT I have been playing ice hockey, hiking, and attending trivia nights at the Philipsburg Brewery.  

The most interesting things about MT are the deliciousness of the cheeseburgers, the lower price of gasoline, and the lack of any deciduous trees.  

Why I Wanted to Work for Vote Smart: I was interested in working at Vote Smart because in its core mission of expanding political consciousness, the organization attempts to tackle some of the most pressing issues currently holding back our progress as a species.  Having spent most of my adult life studying that which I love- politics and human history- I am disgusted and disillusioned by a political system in which dehumanizing corporate interests have caused the degeneration of American society into polarized wealth and paralyzed leadership.  In its ideals and employees, Vote Smart embodies that which true democracy demands: knowledge as the means of transcending self interest toward the greater common good.  

Related tags: blog, e-newsletter, interns, Montana, staff-members, volunteers

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