Project Vote Smart

In this post I’m shilling (voluntarily, of course) for an organization I believe in so strongly that I want you to know about it. The reason I feel so strongly is that I’m passionate about voting (but there’ll be another post about that coming up soon). In the meantime, with the general election less than three weeks away, voters (and if you’re a U.S. citizen old enough to vote, I sure hope that includes you) need to know who the candidates are and what they stand for. We need to cut through hyperbolic, misleading television advertising. (Frankly, I believe our government and our democracy would be greatly improved if political television advertising was banned….but that’s another story.) We need more than sound bytes and slogans. We need to know what the candidates really think, not just about a few flashpoint issues, but about a multitude of issues. Seems like there’s no place to get the information we need, right? But there is. That place is Project Vote Smart, a non-partisan volunteer-driven research project that compiles information on elected officials and candidates: public statements, voting records, campaign contributions, biography and work history, and more. Since I can’t say it better than Project Vote Smart does, here’s how they put it: “Citizens come together, not in selfish interest or to support one candidate over another, but to defend democracy. It is an extraordinary gathering of people committed to one purpose: to strengthen the most essential component of democracy — access to information . . .”

Now, here’s the really cool thing. A press release from Project Vote Smart announces their new, extremely user-friendly tool for learning about candidates running in your district. It’s called VoteEasy, and I just took a tour by going to VoteEasy and clicking on my state, which happens to be New York. I learned the percentage of the population in New York that’s registered to vote, and the percentage of those people who voted in the last election. Next, I typed in my zip code (in my case I had to add my +4 zip or street address, as my zip code covers more than one district). Next, I saw the names and faces of the Senatorial and Congressional candidates in my district, as well as a list of issues.

I wanted to read about one of the incumbent candidates, so I clicked on her name, and found out about her education, and her professional and political experience. I saw her voting attendance record, and how often she voted with her party. I saw which special interest groups endorse her, and how she compares to her competitors in terms of campaign financing. I learned where she stands on issues from Afghanistan to the environment to taxes. If I want more information, I can click through to read speeches she’s made and see her voting record in greater detail. I can then compare her to her opponents from several other parties. (Yes! Though our friendly newspapers and television news programs don’t seem to know it, there are more than just two political parties!)

If I want to compare candidates by issue, I can click on a list of subjects, like abortion, education, immigration, social issues, and more. Let’s say I want to compare positions on health care. I click on that issue and am asked “Do you support a publicly administered health insurance option?” If I click “yes,” the candidates who support public health insurance are brought forward on my screen; if I click “no,” the candidates against public health insurance come forward. I can even indicate how important I consider an issue to be, and get a comparative visual showing me how closely each candidate’s opinion matches my own . The system isn’t perfect in that it seems to get confused if you click “yes” on an issue and then switch to “no” (or vice versa), but remember that you can still see where each candidate stands by clicking on their names and selecting “view this candidate’s positions.”

Pretty cool, huh? Now go try it yourself: VoteSmart-VoteEasy

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