BLET Auxiliary Update

Project Vote Smart a useful tool for voters

By Sereena Hogan
First Vice-President and National Legislative Representative

With less than a year until we cast our vote for the man or woman who will hold the top political office in our country, it's a good time to tune in to the whole political process and think about what part each of us plays in that process. Are you a registered voter? If not, why not? Do it now. It's not only your right, it's your responsibility as an American citizen to do your part.

BLET brother Robert Hagan of Division 757, who is also the Ohio District 60 Representative, says, "When we ignore our vote, we ignore our future. Everything we do in our lives, from our early morning wakeup to our rest at night, includes a law that was enacted by people we voted for or ignored. You make the choice; don't let someone else decide for you. Do you really want someone else to decide your future?"

But how do we figure it all out? We're bombarded with political rhetoric every day. How do we sort out the truth from the endless manipulations that prey on our emotions rather than giving us the facts? As voters, we can become frustrated and confused by the candidates' campaign methods, using anger and fear to win votes. I'm tired of it already and we've got almost a year more of it before we slip into the voting booth and make our choices. And you can bet it's gonna get ugly!

The keynote speaker at this year's Teamster's Women's Conference in Houston, Texas, Political Strategist Donna Brazile, encouraged listeners to go a little deeper when trying to decide who's going to get your vote. "Look at their voting history," she said, "See how they have voted in the past on issues that are important to you."

I remember thinking at the time that Ms. Brazile's words sounded like good advice, but that kind of fact-finding could be a lot of work and very time consuming. Recently, though, as I was sailing across the vast sea of information we call "the web," I somehow landed on a website that I think could be very useful in sorting out the facts.

A non-profit, non-partisan political research organization known as "Project Vote Smart" maintains a website at that touts itself as "The Voter's Self-Defense System." Here you can find everything you ever wanted to know about over 40,000 political candidates and lawmakers, as well as summaries of key legislation. Project Vote Smart (PVS) tracks key votes in all state legislatures and monitors everything that goes on in Congress. They provide information on the candidates' voting history records, issue positions, where their funding comes from, their backgrounds and past professions, and copies of all their speeches. They even gather evaluations of candidates made by more than 200 competing liberal and conservative special interest groups. PVS collects every speech and public statement made by the candidates for President, Vice-President, Cabinet, Governor, and Congress, and compiles all this into a searchable database so you, the voter, can compare candidates' self-serving claims against their actual performance in office. All of the facts entered on PVS's extensive website are checked five times to be absolutely sure that the data is correct. Regardless of education or political sophistication, all interested persons can have instant access to information about candidates and issues of importance to them.

Project Vote Smart was formally started in 1988 by former Presidents Carter and Ford and other political leaders, including John McCain, Geraldine Ferraro, and Michael Dukakis. It operates much like the Peace Corps, with volunteers signing up for two weeks to two years. The facility where all this research and data compilation takes place is an extraordinary high-tech wilderness retreat in the Montana Rockies, and is operated and maintained entirely on donated funds from philanthropic foundation grants, memberships, and individual donations. They do not lobby, support, or oppose any candidate and do not receive financial support from any organization that does. No funds are accepted from special interests, corporations, or even the Government.

PVS recently aquired a 45-foot bus that is touring the nation to teach voters how to defend themselves against the rhetoric and misinformation that come out of political campaigns. Complete with a movie theater and computer terminals, the bus is staffed by six PVS board members who teach visitors how to sort through the barrage of information likely to be directed at voters in 2008 to determine what is credible and what is not. The bus tour schedule is posted on the website, and they will travel anywhere they are welcome.

I hope you will take a moment to check out the Project Vote-Smart website. Whether you do or not, please do take the time to educate yourself in some fashion and cast your vote in the 2008 General Election, and encourage your family and friends to do the same.

If you are feeling skeptical about whether or not your vote will make a difference, think about this: If you care about education and jobs; if you care about the Supreme Court and individual rights; if you care about hate crimes, the military and foreign policy; if you care about health care and welfare reform, or paying down the national debt; if you care about global warming and protecting the environment, you owe it to yourself, your family, and your country to vote.



© 2007 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen