Project Vote Smart
|Headquarters||1 Common Ground, Philipsburg, Montana 59858|
Vote Smart, formerly called Project Vote Smart (PVS), is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that collects and distributes information on candidates for public office in the United States. It covers candidates and elected officials in six basic areas: background information, issue positions (via the Political Courage Test), voting records, campaign finances, interest group ratings, and speeches and public statements. This information is distributed via their web site, a toll-free phone number, and print publications. The president of the organization since its founding is Richard Kimball.
PVS also provides records of public statements, contact information for state and local election offices, polling place and absentee ballot information, ballot measure descriptions for each state (where applicable), links to federal and state government agencies, and links to political parties and issue organizations.
In 1986, Richard Kimball ran unsuccessfully for one of Arizona's two U.S. Senate seats. In a candidate's debate, he described the campaign process to prospective voters:
"Understand what we do to you. We spend all of our time raising money, often from strangers we do not even know. Then we spend it in three specific ways: First we measure you, what it is you want to purchase in the political marketplace — just like Campbell's soup or Kellogg's cereal. Next, we hire some consultants who know how to tailor our image to fit what we sell. Lastly, we bombard you with the meaningless, issueless, emotional nonsense that is always the result. And whichever one of us does that best will win."
Kimball used this philosophy to found Vote Smart in 1992. His founding board included Presidents Jimmy Carter (D) and Gerry Ford (R), plus Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater and Democratic U.S. Senators George McGovern and William Proxmire as well as other nationally known figures.
Originally based at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, PVS established its headquarters and research center in 1999 at the Great Divide Ranch near Philipsburg, Montana. In 2006, Vote Smart added a branch at The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Coincident with this move, the Vote Smart gave its president Richard Kimball a pay increase which was criticized by some alumni and which contributed to a reduction in its Charity Navigator score. In December 2010, the Tucson office was closed in preparation for two new satellite research offices. The reason for the closure of the Tucson branch was also related to the University’s budget cuts, which eliminated the Vote Smart's "rent-free space at a 1,500- square-foot house off the main campus."
In January 2011, Vote Smart moved its Key Votes Department and Political Courage Test Department to facilities offered by both the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Southern California. Vote Smart has since left the University of Southern California and moved its Political Courage Department to its Montana research center.
In August 2016, Vote Smart announced that it would be selling its 150-acre ranch near Philipsburg, Montana and relocating its headquarters after the November 2016 U.S. presidential election. Vote Smart President Richard Kimball said the ranch's secluded location, which housed 40 interns, had caused issues: “We have all the problems a university does with the experimental, adventurous, hormonal torrent that is the young. Only in the wilderness such things can become dangerous. Love was requited and denied, marriages were created, fights ensued, drinkers crashed, injuries of every sort, hospital trips too numerous to recall, some to sustain life, and distressingly, three deaths."
Vote Smart says that it does not accept contributions from corporations, labor unions, political parties, or other organizations that lobby, support or oppose candidates or issues. Donors to the organization have included the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Political Courage Test
It is part of the voter education organization Vote Smart's candidate information program. With a view towards elections, the test seeks to obtain answers from election candidates, describing their respective stances on a variety of popular issues in American politics. This information is then made available to voters in a selection-driven, standardized format.
In 2008, Project Vote Smart kicked John McCain off of the organization's board due to his refusal to fill out the Political Courage Test.
The response to the Political Courage Test has dropped, from 72% in 1996 to 48% in 2008, because politicians from both parties are afraid that challengers will use their responses out of context in attack ads, according to The Wall Street Journal. Rep. Anne Gannon, Democratic leader pro tempore of the Florida House of Representatives, stated: "We tell our candidates not to do it. It sets them up for a hit piece." In response, Vote Smart has tried to shame politicians into it, and lets them leave up to 30% of answers blank.
- Board, Editorial (Sep 24, 2010). "Voting time approaches; do your homework". Austin American Statesman. Retrieved 23 June 2011.
- "Virginia US Senate Race: Nonpartisan Issue Guide for George Allen Vs Tim Kaine". Huffington Post. November 2, 2012.
- "Vote Smart Board". Vote Smart. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
- Duganz, Patrick. "Raising Richard: Breaking the pay scale at Vote Smart". Missoula Independent. August 30, 2007.
- "Project Vote Smart, a voter-aid group, leaving UA". Arizona Daily Star.
- Weinraub, Dara (January 20, 2011). "Project Vote Smart comes to campus". Daily Trojan.
- Erickson, David (March 22, 2014). "Project Vote Smart lays off 6, considers closing". The Missoulian. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
- Pentilla, Annie (August 8, 2016). "Nonprofit election tracker Project Vote Smart to leave Philipsburg". Billings Gazette. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- Stirland, Sarah Lai (February 23, 2012). "Strapped for Cash, Election Info-Providing Project Vote Smart Might Have To Sell The Ranch". Tech President. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
- Nintzel, Jim (April 17, 2008). "Test Study: Why are politicians like John McCain suddenly so afraid of Project Vote Smart?". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
- "Project Vote Smart Website - About Us". Retrieved 23 June 2011.
- "About the Political Courage Test". VoteSmart. Retrieved 2016-07-20. This includes links to other VoteSmart pages, e.g., to "View the current Political Courage Test forms."
- Stein, Jonathan (April 10, 2008). "McCain Gets the Boot From Project Vote Smart". Mother Jones. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
- Grant, Peter (2006-10-25). "Politicians Grow Wary Of Survey as Internet Spreads Attack Ads". Wall Street Journal.
- Naoreen, Nuzhat (2010-10-15). "VoteEasy website aims to take guesswork out of voting: Nonprofit helps people find candidates whose opinions match up with their own". MTV. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
- Lazar, Shira. "Where Do I Vote? Digital Guide to Voting Made Easy". CBS News. Archived from the original on January 20, 2011.
- Becker, Bernie (October 15, 2010). "The Early Word: Delaware-Bound". The New York Times.
- Goodale, Gloria. "Project Vote Smart unveils tool for the confused Election 2010 voter: Vote Smart's VoteEasy website compares your answers on 12 basic Election 2010 questions with answers from congressional candidates in your district. But it's not flawless.". The Christian Science Monitor.
- Vote Smart Official Website
- Background and History of Vote Smart. Retrieved November 6, 1996.
- Vote Smart's Blog