The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation will begin this month managing Project Vote Smart's Key Votes Program, a free online database that provides citizens with access to congressional and state legislative voting records compiled by undergraduate researchers. The institute was among six universities vying to manage the Key Votes program.
Thanks to a partnership with Project Vote Smart, a national non-partisan organization that collects information about candidates, issues and key votes, the Annette Strauss Institute will expand to a national level its work to create more voters and better citizens through high-quality, non-partisan information.
"In order to be an engaged citizen, one must have access to high-quality information about their government," said Roderick P. Hart, director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation at The University of Texas at Austin. "Our partnership with Project Vote Smart to manage the Key Votes program dovetails nicely with our mission of creating more voters and better citizens through high-quality, non-partisan information."
The Annette Strauss Institute is seeking 20-30 undergraduate students with an interest in government, journalism or political communication to intern 10 or more hours each week researching and compiling the voting records of elected officials. Class credit is available. Interested students can submit a resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Key Votes organizes voting records by issue to help voters dissect how their elected officials are representing them. The votes maintained in the database are determined by five criteria, including: whether the vote is helpful in portraying how a member stands on a particular issue, whether the vote is clear for the public to understand, whether the vote has received media attention, whether it was passed or defeated by a close margin, and sometimes, whether a specific bill is consistently inquired about on Project Vote Smart's Voter's Research Hotline (1-888-VOTESMART).
Descriptions of the votes are written by Key Votes staff and undergraduate researchers based on information included in the Congressional Record and state house and senate journals. Additional background information is pulled from newspapers, magazines and other media.
To ensure clarity, relevance, nonpartisanship and accuracy the votes selected by Key Votes staff go through an approval process before being entered into the database, with political scientists and journalists of opposing viewpoints reviewing the selection and the content.
Founded in 1992 by national leaders such as Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, Michael Dukakis and Newt Gingrich, Vote Smart researches the voting records, backgrounds, issue positions, campaign contributions, interest group ratings and public statements of more than 40,000 candidates and elected officials. Project Vote Smart is funded by foundation grants and individual contributions.