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  • Writer's pictureJack Nichols

From Corvallis to Montana: Jessica Arrigoni's Vote Smart Story

I joined Vote Smart in 1999 shortly after completing my Master’s Degree. I was excited to use my new knowledge working for an organization whose mission was, and still is today, to provide factual, non-partisan information on candidates and elected officials in an accessible way so that voters can make informed decisions. In our current political context, this concept is pretty unique – to inform all voters regardless of where they land on the political spectrum. Twenty plus years later, I’m still excited to share my knowledge and time in support of Vote Smart’s mission. It’s more relevant and needed than ever before.

When I first applied to Vote Smart in 1999 they had offices in Corvallis, Oregon and Boston, Massachusetts. I was headed to Corvallis. At least that’s what I thought. A few weeks after accepting the position, I received a phone call that the Corvallis office was moving to Montana. Did I still want the job? I did. I packed up, left the Midwest, and moved to the Great Divide Ranch in Philipsburg, Montana.

When I was picked up at the airport, I was asked if I wanted to stop for any general necessities because once we left the airport, it was a two hour drive to the ranch with not much in-between beside Mountains and trout creeks. Vote Smart had purchased a 150 acre ranch, outside a town of 900 people, down a 10-mile dirt road. Why would an organization with a political focus buy a ranch in Montana? Because not only were they unique in their focus to provide non-partisan resources to voters, they were unique in their belief that they didn’t need to be in DC or a big city to fulfill their mission. In Montana they could attract staff and volunteers from across the country and offer access to mountains, creeks, and lakes as a reward for the hard work.

The ranch did draw staff and volunteers from all across the country, representing different demographics, and different political points of view. No one talked about their personal politics during the workday, we had a strict check your politics at the door policy. But in the evenings, we had great political discussions, sharing of ideas and debates, and tuned in to every televised debate in large groups with lots of enthusiasm. I met so many people and learned so much during that time.

As with any organization, especially non-profits, staff come and go, leaving behind their contributions while the organization continues to grow and evolve. I left after a few years of working in the research department, as research director and then later as the first national director. When I left, I was asked to join Vote Smart’s board. I should note, I also left with my future husband.

Vote Smart eventually experienced growing pains in Montana and decided to connect with Drake University and relocate to Iowa. Where it is currently located and where there is a strong partnership between the university and Vote Smart – as well as an online network of interns, volunteers, and staff from across the country. I’ve had the good fortune to visit the Iowa office and returned to the ranch in Montana numerous times before it was relocated. I always leave inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of Vote Smart staff.

In 2022, Vote Smart for the first time in its history, welcomed a new leader as the founder decided to retire. And with any new president came new ideas and ways to manage the organization. I was happy to be the board chair during that time of transition. During the transition, the mission never wavered from providing factual information about candidates and elected officials to all voters.

Some of Vote Smart’s board members are part of its origin story, but I don't have that good fortune. But I am quickly approaching a quarter century of involvement with Vote Smart (and with my husband). If you have gotten to the end of this blog, maybe you have a history as long as mine, and maybe our paths crossed at some point, or maybe you are new to Vote Smart. Either way, I encourage you to share your Vote Smart story and hope you use the resources that have been created for you and you share them with your family and friends. As John F. Kennedy said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”



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