Here's a Tool to Assess Candidates' Stands

SOURCE: Project VoteSmart
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
“It is easier to catch a greased pig than it is to catch a candidate with a straight answer to a straight question,” says Richard Kimball, president of VoteSmart.

Project VoteSmart, a nonpartisan public service organization dedicated to ferreting out the voting records and political stances of candidates for public office, has added a new feature to its website. Called "VoteEasy," this interactive research system gives voters instant confirmation on which congressional candidates agree with their own positions on the issues.

Project VoteSmart developed VoteEasy because the organization has found that few candidates dared to respond to the detailed Political Courage Test VoteSmart has developed to assess candidates' stands. For example, neither Andrew Harris (R.) nor Frank Kratovil (D.), opponents in the hotly contested Maryland First District race, has responded to the test.

This lack of responsivenesss is encountered frequently, according to VoteSmart officials. Candidates are often loathe to go on the record, for fear their viewpoints will be distorted or their unpopular stances will be exposed. To counter the lack of complete information available to voters, over the past year Vote Smart researchers have spent thousands of hours detailing each candidate’s political history (reviewing their votes, public statements, backgrounds and actions), thereby determining their positions even when they refused to answer the same questions put to them by Vote Smart (not to mention the national media) in the National Political Courage Test. These positions can be ascertained in the VoteEasy online feature, with candidates' stands verified by their own words and public records.

“This is fact checking on a massive scale and it is not popular with either major party,” said Richard Kimball, Vote Smart President. “It is easier to catch a greased pig than it is to catch a candidate with a straight answer to a straight question,” he said. “In fact, one Democratic congressional campaign told us the DCCC would withhold their campaign funds if they provided Vote Smart with answers, while the RNCC had one of their attorneys contact us and threaten legal action if we did not remove their candidates’ positions on the issues.”

Using VoteEasy is simple. Voters in any state just visit the VoteSmart website, go to the VoteEasy panel, and type in their zip code. They answer the same key issue questions their congressional candidates were asked by Vote Smart staff and national media. Then they can watch the candidates’ images on yard signs "squirm" as they advance and recede relative to how their views align with those of the voter. Clicking on a candidate's yard sign picture will reveal that candidate's record and background.

“We are turning opposition research on its head to serve the will of each voter," claimed Kimball. "Candidates who think our research is in error are welcome and encouraged to exchange their own answers for ours on VoteEasy."

Project VoteSmart: An Extraordinary Organization That Has Some Extraordinary Rules
  1. No one can join the Project's board without a political opposite. People as diverse as former Presidents Carter and Ford, former Senators McGovern and Goldwater, former Governor Dukakis, former Congresswoman Ferraro and current Senator McCain have served on the Project's board, supporting the efforts of the Project's students and volunteers, and ensuring balance and strict impartiality in PVS programs and services.
  2. The Project refuses financial assistance from all organizations and special interest groups that lobby or support or oppose any candidate or issue.
  3. The Project operates much like the Peace Corps -- of the over 5000 people who have come to help by working at the Project, ninety percent received no pay and those who did received only minimal salaries to cover basic living expenses.
  4. Unlike other organizations, the Project strictly protects its members and supporters. We never sell or provide names, addresses, or other contact information of any supporter or contributor to anyone, at any time, for any reason.

VoteSmart's republications in the Baltimore Chronicle have permission of the organization.

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This story was published on October 13, 2010.