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  • Writer's pictureVote Smart Research Team

Common Ground e-Newsletter: What have we been up to?

Defying the Odds

As I spend more time at Vote Smart, the work of our students, volunteers and staff continues to wow me. I’ve only known a fraction of the 9,000 people that have created this bulwark for democracy over the past 30 years, but those that I have known impress me day in, day out. I’ve also only had the opportunity to meet a handful of you that support us and to show you the work we now do at our Des Moines research headquarters; I’d like to show more of you!

Visitors may have a sense of what we do—but they are always surprised by how we do it. The attention to detail we provide on 40,000 politicians each election cycle and every legislative session is a unique endeavor. The fact that this work is done by young and old from left and right across the country on this common ground makes it more than unique; it defies the odds.

So, what have we been up to? Let me give you a glimpse, and let me brag a little, on what and who you’ve supported at Vote Smart. After all, without you, we can’t build this self-defense system that every American needs.

Walker McKusick

Vote Smart National Director

What Have We Been Up To?

During the spring and summer of 2016, Vote Smart's staff and student volunteers were hard at work researching the facts on over 40,000 politicians ahead of the November elections.

They started with candidates’ biographical profiles, information on their education, profession, and more—information so accurate that it is used nationwide by organizations like Google, NBC, and the Department of Defense.

They researched politicians’ up-to-date statements: our database now has almost 1.2 million speeches, all searchable by issue and keyword.

They collected ratings from over 1,500 special interest groups that show what these groups are saying about politicians. Several major groups were researched via a unique, automated process to keep their information current in our database.

They added voting records on almost 1,000 pieces of legislation nationwide to our collection of 15,000 key votes. They wrote summaries for each that explain the votes in simple, layman’s terms anyone can understand.

They gathered the campaign finances—the millions of dollars politicians receive and who gives it to them—of every single candidate.

Staff contacted candidates directly to get key information straight from the horse’s mouth - but they weren’t talking.

  • Three hundred congressional candidates took our Political Courage Test, choosing to tell citizens where they stand on the key issues they might face if elected.

  • Nine hundred others hid. Our researchers analyzed the full public records of those who refused to answer in order to answer the questions for them.

  • 2016 was the first year we provided these candidate positions ahead of the primary and general elections.

As always, this wealth of information is available to all Americans online via our free tools: iSpy, Political Galaxy, and VoteEasy.

Who Uses these Invaluable Resources?

Over 10 million used our tools before voting in the 2016 election—that’s at least 2 million more smart voters than in 2012. Millions more got the facts through our partners at Google, Bing, NBC, and the Department of Defense. They went deeper with our resources, too! People spent an average of 2 more minutes on our online tools this past election cycle.

We're not Just Online!

Our Voter's Self-Defense Manual provided voters with a handy, printed guide to the 2016 election. All the facts were there for each presidential candidate and every member of Congress. Stay tuned for the 2018 Manual, delivered free to all members!

Citizens across the country also called in to our toll-free Voter’s Research Hotline (1-888-VoteSmart). They got to talk to a personal researcher to get the facts directly over the phone.

What's Next for the Voter's Self-Defense System?

OnPoint is On the Way - our mobile app has been vetted and is ready for launch

Our IT team made great progress on our new mobile application, OnPoint. This tool will allow Americans to track what their politicians are saying and doing about the issues that matter to them. As with so many complex innovations, this endeavor was not without complications: we were unable to release the application prior to the 2016 election. We will announce OnPoint to the public in November 2017. We are all excited to bring the facts—ballot measures, public statements, special interest group ratings, key votes, and more—right to Americans’ fingertips!

Vote Smart President Richard Kimball will be announcing OnPoint to the public as his “Facts Matter” national tour continues. This November, he’ll be in seven midwestern states for exciting and engaging presentations like the ones he gave in six western states this past summer.

Vote Smart is broadening the scope of our data and how we collect information

Since our move to Des Moines this past February, researchers have been hard at work with the help of 24 staff and 40 interns, from Iowa and across the country. They have brought fresh faces and ideas to the team. Our public statements research has taken advantage of new sources and strategies: since we began to collect the president's Tweets daily, researchers have amassed almost 1,000 tweets. Our staff have also identified 30 additional special interest groups that are now researched in an automated fashion.

Over 5,000 new followers have joined us for exclusive social media updates

New pieces from our massive database have proved popular via email and social media: 5,000 more subscribers have joined our Facebook and Twitter audiences, and more join every day.

In the midst of these improvements, all special elections in 2017 have been thoroughly tracked and researched for voters across the country, better than ever. All this info and more is being worked on as Vote Smart prepares to educate citizens for the 2018 elections.

Join and Help Us!

Your help makes it all possible. We have the facts but we need the funds. Make a tax-deductible contribution so we can arm Americans at the ballot box with the information they need to make America smart again!



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