Vote Smart

Last updated
Vote Smart
Formation1992 [1]
Headquarters1153 24th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50311
Kyle Dell
Formerly called
Project Vote Smart

Vote Smart, formerly called Project Vote Smart, is a non-profit, non-partisan [2] [3] [4] research organization that collects and distributes information on candidates for public office in the United States. It covers candidates and elected officials in six basic areas: background information, issue positions (via the Political Courage Test), voting records, campaign finances, interest group ratings, and speeches and public statements. This information is distributed via their web site, a toll-free phone number, and print publications. The founding president of the organization was Richard Kimball. Kimball became president emeritus in 2022, when Kyle Dell was announced as the new president of Vote Smart. [5]


PVS also provides records of public statements, contact information for state and local election offices, polling place and absentee ballot information, ballot measure descriptions for each state (where applicable), links to federal and state government agencies, and links to political parties and issue organizations.


In 1986, Richard Kimball ran unsuccessfully for one of Arizona's two U.S. Senate seats. In a candidates' debate, he described the campaign process to prospective voters:

Understand what we do to you. We spend all of our time raising money, often from strangers we do not even know. Then we spend it in three specific ways: First we measure you, what it is you want to purchase in the political marketplace — just like Campbell's soup or Kellogg's cereal. Next, we hire some consultants who know how to tailor our image to fit what we sell. Lastly, we bombard you with the meaningless, issueless, emotional nonsense that is always the result. And whichever one of us does that best will win. [1]

Kimball used this philosophy to found Vote Smart in 1992. [1] His founding board included Presidents Jimmy Carter (D) and Gerald Ford (R), plus Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater and Democratic U.S. Senators George McGovern and William Proxmire as well as other nationally known figures. [1] [6]

Originally based at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, PVS established its headquarters and research center in 1999 at the Great Divide Ranch near Philipsburg, Montana. In 2006, Vote Smart added a branch at The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Coincident with this move, Vote Smart gave its president Richard Kimball a pay increase that was criticized by some alumni and contributed to a reduction in its Charity Navigator score. [7] In December 2010, the Tucson office was closed in preparation for two new satellite research offices. The reason for the closure of the Tucson branch was also related to the university's budget cuts, which eliminated Vote Smart's "rent-free space at a 1,500- square-foot house off the main campus." [8]

In January 2011, Vote Smart moved its Key Votes Department and Political Courage Test Department to facilities offered by both the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Southern California. [9] Vote Smart has since left the University of Southern California and moved its Political Courage Department to its Montana research center.

In March 2014, Vote Smart laid off six employees, citing financial difficulties. A seventh employee quit because of the sudden layoffs. [10]

In August 2016, Vote Smart announced that it would be selling its 150-acre ranch near Philipsburg, Montana, and relocating its headquarters after the November 2016 U.S. presidential election. Kimball said the ranch's secluded location, which housed 40 interns, had caused issues: "We have all the problems a university does with the experimental, adventurous, hormonal torrent that is the young. Only in the wilderness such things can become dangerous. Love was requited and denied, marriages were created, fights ensued, drinkers crashed, injuries of every sort, hospital trips too numerous to recall, some to sustain life, and distressingly, three deaths." [11] Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa was later announced as the new headquarters. [12]


Vote Smart says that it does not accept contributions from corporations, labor unions, political parties, or other organizations that lobby, support or oppose candidates or issues. [13] Donors to the organization have included the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. [14]

Individual contributors are considered members, and are given the opportunity to visit their headquarters where they work as research volunteers alongside interns and staff. [15]

Political Courage Test

The Political Courage Test [16] (formerly the National Political Awareness Test, NPAT) is an American initiative intended to increase transparency in American politics.

It is part of the voter education organization Vote Smart's candidate information program. With a view towards elections, the test seeks to obtain answers from election candidates, describing their respective stances on a variety of popular issues in American politics. This information is then made available to voters in a selection-driven, standardized format.

In 2008, Project Vote Smart kicked John McCain off of the organization's board due to his refusal to fill out the Political Courage Test. [17]

The response to the Political Courage Test has dropped, from 72% in 1996 to 48% in 2008 [18] and even further to 20% by 2016, [19] because politicians from both parties are afraid that challengers will use their responses out of context in attack ads, according to The Wall Street Journal . Rep. Anne Gannon, Democratic leader pro tempore of the Florida House of Representatives, stated: "We tell our candidates not to do it. It sets them up for a hit piece." In response, Vote Smart has tried to shame politicians into it, and lets them leave up to 30% of answers blank. [20]


VoteEasy is "the interactive tool that enables voters to compare their position on various issues with that of a candidate." It was introduced by Vote Smart during the 2010 election season. [18]

Following its launch, VoteEasy was a topic of interest among several national news organizations including CBS News, [21] The New York Times , [22] and the Christian Science Monitor . [23]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Board, Editorial (September 24, 2010). "Voting time approaches; do your homework". Austin American Statesman. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
  2. 2014 (5 October 2014). "As Elections Near, Group Aims to Help Citizens Vote Smart".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  3. "Virginia US Senate Race: Nonpartisan Issue Guide for George Allen Vs Tim Kaine". Huffington Post. November 2, 2012.
  4. "About Project Vote Smart - Moody College of Communication".
  5. "Vote Smart Board Announces Next-Generation Leadership". pvs-blog. Vote Smart. 9 March 2022. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
  6. "Vote Smart Board". Vote Smart. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  7. Duganz, Patrick. "Raising Richard: Breaking the pay scale at Vote Smart". Missoula Independent. August 30, 2007.
  8. "Project Vote Smart, a voter-aid group, leaving UA". Arizona Daily Star.
  9. Weinraub, Dara (January 20, 2011). "Project Vote Smart comes to campus". Daily Trojan.
  10. Erickson, David (March 22, 2014). "Project Vote Smart lays off 6, considers closing". The Missoulian. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  11. Pentilla, Annie (August 8, 2016). "Nonprofit election tracker Project Vote Smart to leave Philipsburg". Billings Gazette. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  12. "Vote Smart to relocate to Drake University in Des Moines". 12 December 2016.
  13. Stirland, Sarah Lai (February 23, 2012). "Strapped for Cash, Election Info-Providing Project Vote Smart Might Have To Sell The Ranch". Tech President. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  14. Nintzel, Jim (April 17, 2008). "Test Study: Why are politicians like John McCain suddenly so afraid of Project Vote Smart?". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  15. "Project Vote Smart Website - About Us" . Retrieved 23 June 2011.
  16. "About the Political Courage Test". VoteSmart. Retrieved 2016-07-20. This includes links to other VoteSmart pages, e.g., to "View the current Political Courage Test forms."
  17. Stein, Jonathan (April 10, 2008). "McCain Gets the Boot From Project Vote Smart". Mother Jones. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  18. 1 2 Naoreen, Nuzhat (2010-10-15). "VoteEasy website aims to take guesswork out of voting: Nonprofit helps people find candidates whose opinions match up with their own". MTV. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
  19. Potash, Eric (November 4, 2016). "Why It's So Hard to Find Out Where the Candidates Stand". Washington Monthly. Retrieved April 13, 2019.
  20. Grant, Peter (2006-10-25). "Politicians Grow Wary Of Survey as Internet Spreads Attack Ads". Wall Street Journal.
  21. Lazar, Shira. "Where Do I Vote? Digital Guide to Voting Made Easy". CBS News. Archived from the original on January 20, 2011.
  22. Becker, Bernie (October 15, 2010). "The Early Word: Delaware-Bound". The New York Times.
  23. Goodale, Gloria (12 October 2010). "Project Vote Smart unveils tool for the confused Election 2010 voter: Vote Smart's VoteEasy website compares your answers on 12 basic Election 2010 questions with answers from congressional candidates in your district. But it's not flawless". The Christian Science Monitor.

Further reading