I'm Fran Gardner a semi-retired journalist from Portland, Oregon. This past year, I spent two-weeks in the Montana Rockies as a member volunteer for Project Vote Smart. Each year, I and other volunteers, young and old and in between, spend long days researching what candidates at the national and state-level say, how they vote on key legislation, where they stand on major issues facing the nation, and so much more.
"Because it matters."
Why do I do it? Because it matters.
Vote Smart will be the first to tell you their research efforts are anything but glamorous, but it does help to know that this work is vital. And, frankly, the setting more than makes up for it. When I look up from my desk, I see mountainsides cloaked with tall, proud evergreens. Sunlight plays through the shivering leaves of the aspens planted just outside. This past 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 write us a check or submit an online donation and become a Member today. Most importantly, check in regularly at www.votesmart.org 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.
For more information on visiting and volunteering with us at the Great Divide Ranch in Montana please contact us toll-free at 1-888 VOTE-SMART, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us online. Due to capacity issues, we give preference to our members when accepting volunteers. Our members give a suggested $45 or more annually, in support of our programs and resources.
Through all of the mudslinging and political jargon this election season, don't forget about the issues that voters like you can directly effect...the outcome of state-wide referendums, or as they are also called, ballot measures.
Yet another reason to go to the polls
For instance, did you know that on June 5, 2012, California voters, not elected officials, hold the power to decide how long a member of the state legislature can stay in office?
Also, in November, Florida voters will have the opportunity to directly vote on whether or not to approve a health care bill that would prevent the enforcement penalties brought about from 2010's “Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act” (the Florida constitution requires a 60% "supermajority" for adoption of its ballot measures).
Luckily for voters, Project Vote Smart provides a ballot measure tracking service, where our researchers simplify these long-winded ballot measures with voter-friendly synopses, along with links to the actual legislation in order to help voters understand exactly what is being asked of them. To find ballot measure information from your state visit our website simply call our Voter's Research Hotline (1-888-VOTE-SMART).
Do you find yourself looking for a little more variety in your 2012 candidate pool, but don't know where to go to get the facts on the many other third party and independent candidates also vying for your vote? You're not alone. There's a noticeable lack of information on candidates whose affiliation falls outside of our two major parties. Even 3rd parties themselves some times fail to post information about their own candidates on their own websites. And while there may be a plethora of national news outlets, replete with blogs, twitter accounts and other modern amenities, Vote Smart seems to be the only source providing valuable information on the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of other Americans running for office.
Leveling the playing field in 2012
It's no wonder that an independent survey reported in the academic journal Political Science & Politics said that Vote Smart measured even better than the well funded, for- profit political sites of the New York Times, CNN, Fox News and others when users were asked which site: 1. Has information that cannot be found elsewhere. 2. Has information that makes me want to learn more. 3. Has information that is accurate and non‐partisan.
So, if you're feeling dissatisfied with the obvious candidate choices, our website is the place to turn to. If this seems like an anti-establishment tinge to our otherwise sterling non-partisan reputation, keep in mind that we don't do this for the candidates' sake. Rather, our work is centered around the idea that our democracy depends on the peoples' right to the facts, all the facts, on each and every candidate. At votesmart.org, our researchers treat ALL candidates equally, providing all of them a common platform to convey their message to the voting public.
Specifically on the presidential, congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative level, we provide candidate profiles containing (when applicable) the following information:
Approval ratings by special interest groups
Public statements and speeches
Positions on the issues
Campaign finance records
All of this information is researched and reported on for all candidates, of all parties, and provided free to the public 365 days a year. Our mission in creating this valuable database is so voters can receive abundant, relevant, and accurate information each election year, but also, this type of equal access puts the six-term, major party incumbent side-by-side with the third party, first time office-seeker.
As larger and larger amounts of money flow into partisan media blitzes, and candidates from outside the two traditional parties continue to be excluded from most instruments of modern political discourse, Vote Smart’s free, unbiased resources will only become more valuable to the average voter and the candidates who wish to reach them. With any specific questions regarding 2012 candidates call us toll free on the Voter's Research Hotline (1-888-VOTESMART) or send your questions via email to email@example.com.