October 21, 2008

VoteSmart Bus Travels to I.C.

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To help prepare voters for the upcoming election, Project Vote Smart, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, delivered the Voter’s Self Defense System to Ithaca College.
According to Stephanie Roberts, director of public information for the organization, Project Vote Smart is dedicated to teaching the public how to defend themselves against “campaign hype and spin that is bombarding all of us from all levels.” [img_assist|nid=32813|title=Preparing the voters|desc=The VoteSmart bus finds a spot to park outside of Hofstra before the presidential debate last week.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The Voter’s Self Defense System ex­poses facts on over 40,000 candidates and elected officials, ranging from the president and executive branch officials to city and county officials. On their website and in the Self Defense Manual, Project Vote Smart reveals the voting records, backgrounds, issue positions, finances, evaluations and public statements of these candidates and elected officials, all searchable by keyword or phrase.
“We don’t support or oppose any candidate or position,” said Jon Arnold, bus tour coordinator, “and we don’t try and influence you either way.”
In fact, according to their website, Project Vote Smart will not accept any funding from corporations, political action committees or any organization that supports or opposes candidates or issues. Instead, the organization receives 70 percent of their funds from their approximately 50,000 members and receives 30 percent of funds from philanthropic organizations. Their programs and services are free to all Americans.
Project Vote Smart not only targets college students, but its national bus tour has also visited community centers, public libraries, conventions and debates. In fact, Project Vote Smart has traveled to 45 states across the country, covering 45,000 miles in their mission to educate Americans.
The bus tour is composed of a 45-foot mobile training center with 12 computer stations, wi-fi access, a film theater and colorful interactive exhibits. The tour “illustrate[s] how people can strip away the self-serving rhetoric to find out what the candidates really look like,” Roberts stated in an e-mail.
Project Vote Smart’s website is updated daily, according to Arnold, and most of the research is done by college interns and volunteers from around the country.
Roberts noted in an e-mail, “We track every incumbent and candidate running for president, U.S. House and Senate, governor and state legislature in every state.”
In the 2004 election, the website received 16 million independent hits per day in the peak time leading up to the election, according to Arnold. This year, Project Vote Smart expects 20 to 25 million hits per day.
After viewing Project Vote Smart’s website, Justin Granstein ’10 said, I like how [the website] complies biographical information and voting record information with the public statements. However, for candidates who have not yet held the office [for which they are running], many haven’t filled out the political courage test [how they would vote if elected], so it’s not very valuable.”
He added, “They should provide links to the full text of bills.”
Amar Kelkar ’10, said that the website “seems really useful. It’s easy to find information about your area, [which is important] because I want to know who I’m actually voting for.”
Yesterday, approximately 75 people showed up at Project Vote Smart’s stop at Ithaca College, many of whom were undecided voters.
Jenna Trojnacki, a senior at I.C., explained that though she has been watching the presidential and vice-presidential debates, she has been disappointed because the candidates only say what they think the public wants to hear.
“Hopefully [Project Vote Smart] will help me make up my mind,” she said.
Another I.C. senior, Lee Small, said, “I think [the program] is awesome. The more information you have, the better off you are.”
Courtney Miller, a sophomore at I.C., agreed, explaining that “This is a phenomenal opportunity for people to dig into local politics.” Project Vote Smart’s non-partisanship, she commented, is “refreshing.”
Project Vote Smart’s website can be accessed at: http://votesmart.org.