If you despair over the bitter divisiveness of politics these days but you still care about the issues facing the state and the nation and you want to stay informed, and you still believe that facts matter, Vote Smart has you covered.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization — and it is emphatically both — this week released a new smartphone app called OnPoint that lets you keep up on what your elected officials are doing and saying about the issues of the day.
First, a little background: Vote Smart, founded in 1992 at Oregon State University, operated for 16 years at a ranch in Philipsburg, Montana, and now is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. Its founding board included former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and Sens. Barry Goldwater, George McGovern and William Proxmire. That's about as nonpartisan as it gets. No one may join the board without a political opposite joining at the same time.
The organization accepts no donations from corporations, unions or political parties or from groups that lobby or that support or oppose any candidate or issue. It exists on contributions from individuals and groups such as the Ford Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Its research staff is largely unpaid volunteers. Those who do receive a salary earn just enough to cover expenses.
Every election, Vote Smart issues its Political Courage Test, challenging candidates across the country to fill out a questionnaire stating their positions on a number of issues. More than half refuse out of fear that their opponents will take the responses out of context in attack ads. (Vote Smart removed Sen. John McCain from its board in 2008 because he refused to take the test.)
Enter the smartphone app. OnPoint is available from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. The user allows the application to access the phone's location, so it knows the user's representatives.
The app then prompts the user to choose one of 15 issues, including Government Budgets, Russian Election Interference, Religious Expression, Immigration Reform, Guns and Climate Change. A brief synopsis of the issue appears, and at the bottom of the screen are buttons for Statements, Ratings, Measures and Votes.
When I chose Immigration Reform, tapping Statements brought up a Monday letter from Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to immigration officials, statements by Rep. Greg Walden and Gov. Kate Brown and tweets and speeches by President Donald Trump, listed in order by date. Tapping Ratings yielded ratings on immigration issues of members of Congress by various interest groups — the American Conservative Union, the NAACP and the John Birch Society, to name just a few.
The app also will display state ballot measures, successful, unsuccessful or in the works, dealing with the selected issue, and how your elected officials voted on specific legislation at the state and national level, with links to the text of the bills and their progress.
It's a political junkie's dream. If you're so inclined, you could spend hours following the links to key legislation, what your elected representatives said about the issues and how they voted.
And you will be a more informed voter as a result.
— Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.